Fields of sunflowers are great for cleaning up radioactive spills.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of Corel Photography
News story originally written on March 3, 2000
Sadly, humans have a habit of making messes in our environment. Oil spills, toxic chemicals and other harmful materials ruin otherwise healthy land. Normally it takes a lot of time and money for cleanup, but scientists say help is on the way.
Biologists have discovered that some species of plants will clean up these wastes. Gardeners everywhere hate crabgrass more than any other plant, but it happens to be a great fighter when it comes to hydrocarbons. The "weed" attracts microorganisms which eat the contaminants. Other plants, such as poplar trees, actually absorb the materials into their roots, limbs and leaves.
It may take years before an area is cleaned up, but the cost is much less than the typical clean up process. Transporting the chemicals out of the area takes time and money, and doesn't really solve the problem because the chemicals are dumped somewhere else. The plants, however, can be removed and burned once the chemicals are absorbed.
Scientists say much more research is needed before this procedure can be used all the time. They need to make sure the organisms that eat the chemicals don't end up spreading the chemicals around instead of eliminating them. But if this process works, we will have a great weapon against land contamination.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more
The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 29th at 2:19 p.m. EST. The weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit. This was the United States' 123rd...more
A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more
Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials want an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting to be...more
A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on the Sun early last month. The material that was thrown out from this explosion passed the ACE spacecraft. The SWICS instrument on ACE has produced a new and very...more
J.S. Maini of the Canadian Forest Service called forests the "heart and lungs of the world." This is because forests filter air and water pollution, absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and maintain...more
In late April through mid-May 2002, all five naked-eye planets are visible at the same time in the night sky! This is includes Mercury which is generally very hard to see. You won't want to miss this!...more