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Hemp Investigated as Environment Clean-up Crop for South African Gold Mines

It was used in the aftermath of the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster during the 1990’s. Now research is underway in South Africa that suggests that hemp might be able to clean up some of the most devastated areas of earth—namely South African gold mines.

In a landmark study, funded by the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, a graduate student, Tiago Campbell, a master’s degree candidate in environmental science, is studying phytoremediation as a possible way to regenerate over 400 kilometres of land in the Gauteng, Free State and North West provinces.

It is a place that’s well-known for many things. The area is home to one of the largest gold reserves in the country, which has been so since the discovery. South Africa was the first country to start mining (copper, not gold). The frenzied activity has continued since. In the 1860s, two of the world’s largest diamonds, including the 83-carat Star of South Africa (aka the Cullinan I diamond which sits in the Queen of England’s gold sceptre) and the 21-carat Eureka diamond were unearthed, which predictably, set off a precious metals and gemstones rush in the country.

Unsurprisingly, it is also a place where several of the top 10 world’s deepest mines are located including the deepest in the world, Mponeng Gold Mine, which stretches up to 4.27 km (just over two miles) below the earth, the second deepest mine, Driefontein Mine (3.42km deep), the third deepest mine (Kusasalethu Gold Mine), 3.38 km deep, the Moab Khotsong Gold Mine, the world’s fourth deepest (at just over 3km deep at its deepest point), South Deep Gold Mine (2.99 km deep), and the Kopanang Gold Mine (2.24km deep). The only remaining mines among the top ten is in Canada and the U.S.

All mining has never been environmentally friendly—to say the least of it. But, the closeness of these activities creates a disaster zone for the environment that can be toxic to the health of all living things, plant and animal alike.

Authorities claim that there are more than 380 gold mines within Gauteng Province. They contain high levels radioactive and toxic metals like cadmium and cobalt as well as zinc and uranium.

South Africa: How hemp can help

Campbell states that Campbell reached this conclusion when he was 58 years old. Chronic NewsHowever, his results aren’t specific to hemp as he wasn’t able to get a marijuana license on campus to cultivate his cannabis crops. He has so far only tried a different species of fiber plant. However, he also said, “based on my understanding and experience with the cannabis plant, I firmly advocate for its validity and potential for use in phytoremediation strategies. A team at the Vaal University Of Technology is actively researching phytoremediation using many cannabis varieties. I’ve been in touch with them. The team is truly pioneering this work, I hope to be involved in their work in the future.”

Hemp is known (and South African research is further confirming the same) as a “hyper accumulator” of heavy metals. Hemp also outperforms all other plants that are being studied for their phytoremediation, such as Indian mustard, water-hyacinth and alfalfa.

The U.S. Environmental Agency states that phytoremediation is a cost-effective way to remove heavy metals from soil. It costs between 20 and 50 percent less than more traditional (and costly) methods.

Nearly 1,000 plants were planted in soil from polluted regions and have all grown normal in laboratory tests.

These plants cannot be eaten by animals or humans, but they could be utilized downstream for non-consumable plant fibre projects (such plantcrete).

However, this news is encouraging, especially at a time where the whole South African cannabis debate is in high gear.