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Getting the lead out

Biologist at Michigan Technological University is working on a way to remove lead from soil that is simple, inexpensive, and, quite literally, green. 

Rupali Datta began her tests with vetiver grass back in 2004. 

Vetiver is a clump-forming, perennial grass native to India. It is grown throughout the tropics for its fragrant essential oil, but it has many other uses and can tolerate high levels of contaminants, including heavy metals. 

Datta and Sarkar found that vetiver not only tolerated the lead from San Antonio and Baltimore, it also absorbed it, slashing the levels in soil. They are now working on a larger project in New Jersey and Texas, which began last August. They planted vetiver outside in plywood planter boxes filled with contaminated soil.

“The plants are growing really well,” Datta says. The researchers have cut the vetiver back and are beginning their analysis. The soil samples originally contained between 1,200 and 1,600 milligrams of lead per kilogram, three to four times the maximum amount deemed safe. “Based on our earlier work, I think we’ll have to grow eight cycles to remediate 1,200 milligrams per kilogram to 400 milligrams,” Datta estimates.

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