Researchers at Iowa State University hope plants can become a cheaper way to clean up agricultural chemical spills. Entomology professor Joel Coats has long studied the way pesticides break down in the soil. His recent research has focused on cleaning-up pesticides. He’s using plants to enhance the breakdown of the chemicals of the soil. The plants create nutrients that encourage the growth of fungi and microbes. Coats says using the plants is a lot cheaper than digger up all the dirt and hauling it away. He says they’re looking for funding to use the plants on a major spill site. So far, all the work’s been in the lab, but they believe the plants could clean up the pesticides in three to five years. Coats says plants have been used to clean up the tailings from mines. He says they likely wouldn’t need to cut and destroy the plants afterward. Coats says they’re also working on tests for the plantsand animals around a site to measure the strength of the remaining pesticide. They typically take a soil sample and measure the amount of the chemical in the soil, but he says that doesn’t always give an accurate measurement of what’s available. Coats says testing things like earthwormsand birds in the area may give a better reading.
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