When Loring Air Force Base in Maine closed, part of it was taken over by the local MicMac tribe for farming. But years of firefighting and tests has filled the soil with PFAS, as is the case in so many places.
Now the tribe is experimenting with using hemp plants to remove PFAS from the soil. Grist has a big piece here.
In 2020, researchers discovered that the Micmacs’ hemp plants were successfully sucking PFAS out of the contaminated soil. This practice, known as phytoremediation, could guide farmers across the country who have had to shut down after discovering their soil is tainted with the ubiquitous class of chemicals.
Hemp is a good candidate for phytoremediation because it grows fast across much of the United States. Its roots are deep and profuse — the better to uptake pollutants from soil. Stanley believes their success using hemp to remove persistent contaminants like PFAS holds promise for many other farmers. Before hemp’s widespread legalization in 2018, “huge companies could excavate or do these very intrusive processes” to deal with polluted land, she said. “But there was nothing the layperson could really do to clean land.”
Nason, the researcher with Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, agreed the practice has potential, though she was more cautiously optimistic. “It’s a possibility, but I think we still have a lot to learn,” she said. It’s still unclear how much of the chemicals hemp can remove. Although the Loring project successfully extracted some PFAS, plenty remained in the soil. Also unclear is how many rounds of hemp planting it would take to return levels to a “safe” baseline — something that doesn’t technically exist yet without national standards from the EPA.