What is phytoremediation? When you break it down, you've got two things:
"phyto," which means plants, and "remediation," which is a solution. Put them
together, and you've got a science that uses metal-munching plants to remove
toxins from the ground.
Wetlands experts come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They are trying
to foster the use of phytoremediation to clean up wastewater. However, wetlands
work using phytoremediating plants requires input and expertise from many
Wetlands experts may be soil scientists, environmental engineers, plant
molecular biologists or chemists.
They could also be environmental biologists, botanists, plant physiologists,
plant ecologists, biotechnologists, bioengineers or agricultural scientists.
Or they might be plant pathologists or civil engineers.
Someone who works in the field of phytoremediation is looking for ways
to use plants to clean up contaminated soil and water.
They collect and test soil samples to look for evidence of organic pollutants
and heavy metals. They also seek and develop plant species that have a natural
ability to degrade these contaminants.
The heavy metals (lead, mercury, iron, zinc and copper) and toxic chemicals
in our soil are not meant for human or animal consumption. Unless we remove
them, they'll certainly come back to haunt us through the water we drink.
James Morris is a wetlands ecologist and a biogeochemist at Yale University.
"A lot of these compounds are cancer-causing," says Morris.
Phytoremediation has begun to receive more recognition in the scientific
community. But it is a relatively new field.
Morris says we've been reaping the rewards of plant power for years, but
we've only recently considered it a science. "It is fairly new, probably within
the last decade, although it has been practiced perhaps for centuries," he
"People have used water called constructed wetlands to treat wastewater.
This has been practiced in Europe for decades at least. Although they didn't
use the term phytoremediation, that's what they were doing. They were using
plants to clean up wastewater," says Morris.
Work environments will vary from private industry to academic settings.
No matter who hires you, you'll be expected to work both outside, gathering
and testing samples, and inside, turning your research into words and graphs.
Expect to be exposed to certain hazards in the field. According to graduate
student Tereza Dan, this is one downside to the work. "I think you have to
be aware all the time that these are contaminated sites," she says.