This farmer is growing hemp to save his soil from toxic chemical waste.
Europe’s largest steel mill in the city of Taranto, Italy, used to produce over 10 million tons of steel every year, 40% of all the steel made in Italy. It currently employs about 12,000 people.
The local economy of Taranto, population 200,000, is almost entirely reliant on the steel mill, which is one of the biggest and most deadly polluters of anywhere in the Mediterranean.
The plant is a notorious source of dioxin and dust from the plant is believed to be the reason why Taranto has a lung cancer rate 30% higher than the national average. The plant is so toxic, farmers are forbidden from raising livestock within a 20 kilometer radius of the plant and in 2008, the government ordered the slaughter of thousands of sheep and other animals that were found to have excessively high levels of dioxin.
The area could also be making a lot of money off of tourists because of its nice beaches and pastoral farmland, but the steel mill keeps potential visitors away.
The mill is currently under government control. Health officials ordered the mill be partially shut down, yet the move was blocked by government authorities, and the police partially occupied the plant as part of a criminal investigation, and its owners were ultimately arrested and jailed for committing “environmental disaster”, a serious crime in Italy. Yet the mill still continues to operate, producing much less steel than it once had.
Vincenzo Fornaro’s farm is less than a mile away from the steel mill. Over a decade ago, his entire flock of 600 sheep had to be killed. Since then, he’s been forbidden from raising livestock or crops for food. So instead, Vincenzo Fornaro has decided to grow weed. He doesn’t grow pot to smoke or sell, instead he grows it to pull toxins from the steel mill out of his soil.
Fornaro has planted huge stands of industrial hemp on his farm. He is using a tactic called “phytoremediation”. This tactic uses plants to remove heavy metals, radioactive material, and other bad stuff from the earth.
Industrial hemp has been used to clean up deadly pollutants before. The most famous use of industrial hemp for phytoremediation was near the site of the deadly nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, Ukraine. In the mid-1990s, a company named Phytotech worked with researchers and a Ukraine-based seed bank to plant thousands of hemp plants in and around Chernobyl.
Phytoremediation is a relatively new process, but it is very helpful.
Considering there are tens of thousands of polluted sites across the United States in desperate need of safe cleanup, this process could be the answer to a lot of our issues. Nothing can be built on polluted sites until they are cleaned, meaning these sites sit and continue to pollute the earth until something is done. Billions are spent each year in efforts to clean up toxic soil, and the time for phytoremediation is now.
According to researchers from Colorado State University, hemp is extremely effective in removing the toxic element cadmium from soils. This is convenient because cadmium contamination is everywhere. It is seen in fossil fuels, old-school pesticides and many other byproducts of human civilization.
Since hemp grows quickly, has deep roots, and doesn’t appear to be stunted by pollution, hemp is one of the best plants to use in phytoremediation.
Another amazing thing about using hemp for this process is that, once it has removed toxic chemicals from the soil, it can still be put to use. Hemp can be converted into oil for lubrication or other industrial purposes, it can be used as insulation, and it can even be used as paper or construction material. The most heavy metals appear to accumulate in the leaves of hemp, so it is best to use the stalks or seeds.
While it might not be a good idea to eat or wear hemp products culled from areas where nuclear waste once glowed, this hemp is still safe to use in other applications.
In Italy, where hemp is being grown to detox the land or the toxic chemicals released by the mill, activists are actually beginning to use the hemp to replace steel! Activists have built a brand new apartment building completely made out of hemp fiber.