Phytoremediation at a global scale

New from the world of Phytoremediation —Forest Service Scientist Dr. Ron Zalesny is taking phytoremediation to an international scale! Dr. Zalesny and his team have been studying sixteen agroforestry phytoremediation buffer systems throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michiagan. The team’s groundbreaking work recently received international recognition when the United Nations endorsed their methods as a best practice in May 2023. The project, “Phyto-recurrent selection to enhance ecosystem services and livelihoods in rural and urban communities”, serves a case study reference to the great work that Ron Zalesny is doing cleaning up contaminated leachate from landfills with poplars!

Their team has had major success in harnessing the power of poplars and their ability to suck up contaminated water from a large, closed landfill site outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

After the endorsement, the team had the opportunity to create the first Phytoremediation Training Academy, bringing people together from all over the world to learn about phytoremediation. Phytoremediation is the ability of plants to clean up toxins from the environment.

In August, these participants explored seven phyto-buffers in eastern Wisconsin, delving into the intricacies of implementing phytoremediation projects in their home countries, including Bangladesh, Lebanon, India, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The training, led by Dr. Zalesny, Elizabeth Rogers, Ryan Vinhal, and Liza Paqueo, covers everything from costs to cultivation methods, with a crucial emphasis on selecting tree species that can thrive while removing contaminants.

To guide the participants in their endeavors, Dr. Zalesny helped in finding native trees that mimic the poplars’ ability to absorb contaminants without succumbing to toxicity. However, before choosing tree species, the academy emphasizes the need to prioritize contaminants. Dr. Chung-Ho Lin and Elizabeth Rogers, experts in human health outcomes related to pollution, provide valuable insights to participants on identifying and targeting specific contaminants.

Groundwater pollutants like arsenic, cadmium, and lead can lead to severe health issues, including toxicity, organ damage, anemia, and cancer. The academy participants, guided by Dr. Lin and Ms. Rogers, collect samples from their polluted areas to determine the contaminants requiring priority attention.

Phytoremediation emerges as one of the most cost-effective solutions to combat pollution’s impacts, and thanks to Dr. Zalesny’s initiative, these methods are now reaching a global audience.

To read the US Forest Service article on the work Dr. Zalesny is doing, click here.

To read the full study on “Phyto-recurrent selection to enhance ecosystem services and livelihoods in rural and urban communities”, click here.


Offshoots Diagram of Poplar Buffer for Phytoremediation

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