By Alexandra Charles
To restore Molokai’s contaminated soil, University of Hawaii researchers Alton Arakaki and Qing Li, as well as retired Molokai farmer Lonnie Williams, are rooting for a technique called phytoremediation, which consists of growing plants that can naturally accumulate chemicals from soil.
Barbara Zeeb, associate professor of biotechnologies and the environment at the Royal Military College of Canada, said that phytoremediation is “a treatment that shows promise as a safe and cost-effective remediation technology.”
For the past three years, Alton Arakaki, Assistant Extension Agent for the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Hawaii, has been involved in a phytoremediation research project on Molokai that is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Arakaki is testing seven different squash species to determine their effectiveness in extracting heptachlor and heptachlor epoxide from soil. He plans on completing a report of the results by next March.
Many hope phytoremediation will be the answer for acres upon acres of ex-pineapple fields that were contaminated by heptachlor when it was used to kills pests on crops. Such an agricultural practice was commonplace before the Environmental Protection Agency classified heptachlor as a probable carcinogen and before the chemical was banned in the U.S. in 1988.
“Heptachlor is very good at killing insects, which is why it was used so widely,” said Jason White, agricultural scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “It wasn’t known at the time that it is so persistent and that you find residues of the chemical still around even years after it was banned.”
Copyright 2007 Molokai Times