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2001 flood left legacy of contamination (2)

By  Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)

15:26, February 02, 2012

Chen Tongbin, director of the environmental remediation center, said the fern has been the focal point of the academy's land-cleaning effort in Hechi since lab experiments proved its cleansing ability in 2005.

Chen's team has planted 60 hectares of polluted land in Hechi with the fern since 2010, and by the end of this year, 85.3 hectares will be covered. After that, the method will be promoted in more places across the country.

"Having a way to remove pollutants from soil is important because more than 90 percent of all kinds of pollutants in the air or water end up in the soil," Chen said.

China has more than 10 million hectares of arable land that is contaminated by heavy metals, according to a survey released by the Ministry of Land and Resources in 2006, the latest data available. By late 2008, the country had 121.73 million hectares of arable land to feed its population of 1.37 billion.

After the fern becomes saturated with heavy metals in polluted soil, the aboveground part of the plant is cut off and burned. A new shoot grows from the root, and the process is repeated.

Chen said the ashes of the destroyed fern top can be refined to recover chemicals.

Lab results show the plant can reduce heavy metals in soil by 10 percent a year, and, theoretically, minimize pollutants to safe levels within three to five years.

The farmers of Tan's Huanjiang county are encouraged by improvements in their land, where the fern grows alongside crops.

The corn Tan harvested last spring was a bit harder and less juicy than corn from other areas. But "it's better than nothing", he said. The heavy metals in the corn do not exceed safe levels.

Tan kept some corn for seed and sold some as animal feed.

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