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South Africa: Cleaning soil with hemp

The University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, is currently funding a study to determine if the cultivation of hemp might be able to restore land that has been blighted by the highly toxic and destructive practice of mining gold.

A master’s degree candidate, Tiago Campbell, is examining the suitability of several different crops for their phytorestorative properties. This includes Indian mustard, water hyacinth, alfalfa, and sunflowers. However, he is also including hemp in the list. According to his research so far, hemp appears to be a “heavy metal hyperaccumulator” that beats all the other plants he has so far studied. This is not a new finding, but it is further confirmation of the same. In the 1990s, the Ukrainian government also documented the plant’s ability to absorb heavy metals like nickel, zinc, and chromium which were in the soil due to the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The land he is targeting is near Johannesburg, in Gauteng Province, an area blighted by more than a century of irresponsible and unsustainable gold extraction. The area is known for one of the world’s largest gold deposits. There are also about 380 abandoned mining areas in this zone, containing elevated levels of toxic and radioactive materials, including arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, zinc, and uranium.

Campbell has planted 1,000 cannabis plants in soil collected from the area, and they have all grown normally. Although the cultivated crops could not be used for consumption, they could be used for other purposes – such as hempcrete. 

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