Imagine an otherwise normal day, you are at work with your colleagues when you hear an incredible and terrifying sound. The power goes out and you go to a window. You see orange flames crawling toward the sky in the distance. The conflagration is at the power plant in the distance. You have a sinking feeling in your stomach- you know somehow that today, everything will change.
This was an experience shared by the people of the town of Pripyat, Ukraine. The town was situated near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. On April 26 1986 reactor 4 at Chernobyl exploded. It was one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, and for the people of the town of Pripyat and the surrounding countryside, nothing was the same.
The environmental impact of the explosion was enormous. It’s reach spread over Europe and
as far as the United Kingdom. But the impact on the immediate area around the power plant was the most devastating. Forests were killed, species of animals mutated, and the soil was heavily contaminated. Due to this the Soviet, then the Ukrainian government created a 30 kilometer “exclusion zone” around the power plant. This was done in an effort to contain the damage.
Cleaning and containing the area was-and still is- an incredibly difficult undertaking. But in the mid 1990’s the process of phytoremediation was introduced to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Phytoremediation is the process of using plants to mitigate the effects of contamination in a given ecosystem. Phytoremediation works because certain plants act as a trap and filter for contaminants, which negates the need to excavate and remove soil.
There are many plants that work as phytoremediators, and hemp is not the most efficient; but it is often selected due to it’s rapid rate of growth. There is also evidence to suggest that hemp absorbs the heavy metal cadmium very well. Hemp was planted in Chernobyl in the late 1990’s, in addition to sunflowers (also a phytoremediator) which were already planted, in an effort to help scrub the soil.
Other environmental events can have lasting and adverse effects on the soil. Forest fires, for example, are a natural occurrence that can seriously affect an ecosystem. Forest fires damage topsoil due to the extreme heat close to the surface of the ground. The heat can decrease a soils “wettability”- meaning it literally will not accept water. “Non-wettable” soil causes top-soil runoff, and makes it difficult for new plants to grow.
This is where hemp comes in. Hemp roots can stabilize soil and reduce runoff. The speed with which hemp grows can also kick start the process of breaking down “Hydrophobic” (i.e. non-wettable) soil. This in turn speeds the return to normalcy for areas affected by forest fires.
The full potential for hemp with regard to fixing damaged environments is still not entirely understood. But there is evidence to suggest that incorporating hemp into phytoremediation programs could be very helpful. There is also evidence to suggest that hemp can restore ecosystems damaged by fire. True wellness isn’t just about keeping your body healthy, it’s about keeping the earth healthy; hemp can play a huge role in both of those goals.
For more information on the effect of hemp and soil check out these articles: