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Rehabilitation on mine dumps  RSS feed

 
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Good day Permies,


How do you rehabilitate mine dumps for permaculture/ organic farming with all the metals with decaying copper and lead in the water?  Much appreciated.

Maphokeng
Johannesburg
South Africa
 
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Good day maphokeng. Excellent, critically important question. And if nobody's said it yet, welcome.

I would suggest you look at some of the threads Bryant Redhawk started on this site having to do with soil science and soil building. I have linked to the two big ones below.

https://permies.com/t/63914/Soil
https://permies.com/t/67969/quest-super-soil

Specifically, I would look to improving the soil life. In my opinion, you need to encourage fungi in the soil to thrive. They will spread through the soil, providing what will grow there with support and serving as conduits for nutrient and mineral transport.

When healthy enough, and under the right conditions, they will produce fruiting bodies, or mushrooms. It is critical that people and animals not eat these in a case like yours, because the fungi will have sequestered excess heavy metals in their fruiting bodies. These can be harvested regularly and removed from areas of food production.

Some grasses and grains, and hops relatives will also sequester heavy metals. Hemp will sequester large quantities of heavy metals, for instance.

One idea I like is to put an area being rehabilitated into use as a wood lot or plant-based fibre production for coarse fibre and paper products. If a non-food product is sequestering heavy metals and that product is used to make biomass for, say, an almost complete burn in an RMH (let's say it's managed as a coppiced wood lot for a decade), those heavy metals might accumulate in the RMH itself, or in the ash, but it certainly wouldn't be in your food system any longer.

And if the land were used for, or if the heavy metal-laden biomass were applied to ameliorate a structural lumber operation, that would effectively sequester the heavy metals in the lumber for the life of that structure, and depending on the quality and dimensions of that lumber, perhaps a second life.

If there is a polluted watercourse on the site, it is important to consider that it will continue to pollute the land. If possible, a soil test would be best to determine what levels of contamination you are dealing with, and water tests will tell you if it is a continuing source of pollution.

I would go the safe route and make sure you encourage a vital wetland in the riparian area, focusing on reeds and rushes, wetland plant species that act as natural filters in the environment. You could even use these as biomass amendment for non-food growing areas.

I have also heard that fruit trees, specifically apple, pear, and stonefruit trees accumulate heavy metals in their bark, wood, and seeds, but less so in leaves and fruit. I would literally test this, as in, in a lab, before feeding fruit off trees growing in heavy-metal-laden soil to people or animals, but if it did work exactly like that, it sounds like the heavy metals would be sequestered largely in the structure of the trees.

If I was to summarize this, though, I would still say, read over the two threads above, and think about what you can do to increase the vitality of your soil. The life you encourage in your soil will rehabilitate it.

More information would be most helpful. Good luck in your endeavours, and keep us posted.

-CK
 
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This will take a multi-approach system.
The methods involved would be:
myco-remediation: get lots of different fungi growing their mycelia and accompanying hyphae in the soil to start the bio-removal of many of the heavy metals. species to include would be; oyster, boletus species. These will be the foundation of toxin removal biological systems.

Bacteria: these go along in concert with the mycelia (fungi) to break down the toxic minerals (metals) together they form a fantastic soil improving ecosystem that will allow plants to thrive and further remove toxic materials.

How to get the whole thing going will require some good compost that can then be brewed into compost extracts, these extracts will infuse the soil with the whole gamut of microorganisms, which will be the foundations of remediation.
the extracts will provide not only bacteria but also amoeba, springtails, flagellates, mites, and the whole host of microorganisms. The soil will, as they populate the soil medium levels become more and more crumbly and will hold much more water than it would have at the beginning of a project like this.
Continuing to add compost extracts will begin to allow plant uptake of the nutrients they need and the root systems will be another layer of filtration that only adds to the hyphae mat and bacterial colonies.
All will begin working in unison and chemical analysis of the soil will show reductions in toxins and these reductions will continue.

Additions of things like manures, wood chips, composts will only help the spread of the induced microorganism world and that means more remediation at an increased pace.

Once the whole system is thriving, the contaminates will go away at a seemingly incredible pace, working down from the surface, the plant roots will sink deep, forming highways for the microorganisms to travel thus increasing the amount of surface area for the growing microbiota.

Be aware that this entire process will be on going for as long as you work the land with the goal of remediation, which should be life times.

Redhawk
 
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You should know that you could sell this to fertilizer companies. You might get enough revenue to move your efforts elsewhere. I'd guess though that they'd want to drag out their operation for years, using your site as their exclusive storage site.

We used to swim in a nice pool when I was a kid. It was downstream from a pond where a brass works dumped their "tailings". It was also crossed by a railroad with their bridge over the creek. But the pool itself was a beautiful location. We joked that we had an iron lung on the beach. Years later they used it as I stated for fertilizer over many years. The state of Pennsylvania finally cleaned it up. They just buried it ( I think). I do know they hauled in a lot of dirt in there. I knew who hauled the dirt and where the dirt came from, but no more specifics than that. That site is on the superfund cleanup list.

http://www.healthy-again.net/super_pa.htm

do a find for Bryant Rd on that list.

They stocked that pool many years later with trout, both before and during the cleanup. Myself I'd suggest you find another location if you wanted to eat anything you grew.
 
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I would echo what was said about trees .
What is the water situation on site ? I know water hyacinth has the ability to absorb heavy metals and has been studied in the past as a way of reclaiming them from polluted water

David
 
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What Bryant said about fungi --- the more active fungi you have growing, the more it will remediate the heavy metals and toxins in the soil.

Ways to do this:

1.  Lots of mulch.  Fungal dominated soils tend to have a heavy layer of biomass on the soil surface.  You can jumpstart this with lots of wood chips or other lignin-heavy plant mass.  Chop and drop pruning is a good way to get biomass onto the soil surface.

2.  Trees.  Fungi form a symbiotic relationship with tree roots.  The more roots that are running through the soil profile, the more robust your fungal network will become.  If you wish to inoculate your tree roots with a beneficial fungal inoculant before you plant it, you can, but in my experience, it isn't necessary.  If you can just put a shovelful of soil taken from under a older, more established tree, you'll transfer fungi to the new tree and it will quickly become a host.

3.  Keep a living root in the ground for as long as you can throughout the growing season.  Cover crops are a smart way to jumpstart nature.  If you see weeds growing or junk trees, that's OK. 

I'm not sure that I'd ever eat root crops taken from soil contaminated with heavy metals and such, but I'd eat an apple or avocado grown in such soil.  The old line is "Dilution is the solution to pollution" --- bury the soil in layers and layers of organic material, and over the years, I would imagine that it will test less and less for harmful chemicals.
 
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Biochar has proven itself as a great soil additive for heavy metal laced mine tailings.  The following link will show you before and after pictures of Hope Mine in Colorado:  www.cdsbiochar.com/biochar.html#HopeMine

The Biochar sequesters the heavy metals while also holding water and supporting soil microbes.  Seems to be the perfect material for mine reclamation. 
 
maphokeng metseeme
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Thank you so much Permies for the insight,

the response has been overwhelming, very humbled., 'will go through the responses. 

I will definitely share back home.

Maphokeng



 
Bryant RedHawk
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Greg Martin wrote:Biochar has proven itself as a great soil additive for heavy metal laced mine tailings.  The following link will show you before and after pictures of Hope Mine in Colorado:  www.cdsbiochar.com/biochar.html#HopeMine

The Biochar sequesters the heavy metals while also holding water and supporting soil microbes.  Seems to be the perfect material for mine reclamation. 



It is not the actual Biochar that sequesters anything, what biochar is, is a medium that harbors bacteria, amoeba and other microorganisms.

Redhawk
 
John Duda
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Seems to me that what's most needed is a soil test. I'd be worried that the results would be off the chart. I bring this up because of my main point in this post, I'm thinking if I went to my childhood pool in the creek and took a sample from the spot, that I find that I'd have 2 young men in trench coats wearing sun glasses and flashing their KGB cards return my sample for me. But my point.

I'm thinking of promoting the source of trace metals among the local garden folks, allow them to drive up in a pickup truck and haul off a ton or so. Or maybe a gift bag would be a more appropriate container. If one was to sell a yard/ton for a somewhat nominal fee then it's possible that the site could be cleaned up in a reasonable period of time. But my big concern is whether a yard/ton of these soils would be appropriate to treat 5 acres or 5,000 acres. I think I'd charge enough that I could replace that soil for some half decent topsoil.

One other thing; I'm worried that if I grow ________ that it may use up some of the metals, but if I compost the ________ it'll return back into the soil.
 
Greg Martin
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Bryant RedHawk wrote: It is not the actual Biochar that sequesters anything, what biochar is, is a medium that harbors bacteria, amoeba and other microorganisms.

Redhawk



Hi Redhawk.  There's a lot of biotic interactions as you mentioned, but there's also a lot of important abiotic chemistry going on that occurs at the molecular level in properly made Biochar.  For example, in the molecular stacks of graphene oxide that occur in well made Biochar, among other things, there's a spaced out (by the oxidized moieties) sea of pi electrons that electron couple to the electrons of heavy metals and hold these metal ions very tightly, effectively sequestering them so they're no longer mobile in the soil.  Biochar also adsorbs nutrients like ammonia as well as cations like calcium, potassium, magnesium, etc, but these are less strongly held and are available for exchange to plants.
Best, Greg
 
Bryant RedHawk
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You are exactly right Greg, I did some further research. I'm now doing an experiment aimed at finding out how the char actually acquires the heavy metals, I suspect it is through a biological symbiosis rather than a straight forward chemical reaction, since that would only allow the char to bind up those items that were touching the char or in very close proximity. Thank you for sharing your expertise in this field.

Redhawk
 
Greg Martin
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Looking forward to hearing about your results Redhawk!  It would be very interesting to see the magnitude of how soil microbes participate in this sequestering.  The soil hordes are an amazing crew. It would be amazing to find out if mycelium can facilitate heavy metal movement to a sink, for example. 
 
David Livingston
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I remember doing an experiment at univercity where we "discovered " that each gramme of charcoal had the surface area of a tennis court

David
 
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maphokeng metseeme wrote:Good day Permies,

Me again, so sorry I missed out on the posts. I have attached the snapshots from facebook of a friend that was looking for disused land in and around Soweto for the development of small scale farming activities.  He mentioned that the dams were blue from the decaying copper and lead, with the big storm there was water spillage into rivers where livestock drink, residents bathe and draw cooking water, and I am told residents in the area suffer from respiratory disorders of some kind. 


Chris Kott, thanks for the RedHawk links, they are so full of insight, I will pass them on.  Cecile and John, thank you for the document on how to take lead out of water.

Regards,

Pictures-of-the-dam.JPG
[Thumbnail for Pictures-of-the-dam.JPG]
 
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Regarding fruit trees accumulating less metals in their fruit and leaves than the bark and such... That might not be enough to feel safe about eating the fruit.  There have been several studies in the past ten years or so finding lead and arsenic in fruit juices, even organic ones.  I believe that apple and grape juice are the most studied.

Online, you'll see a lot of postulation about the source of the contamination, including polluted groundwater and airborne drift from coal-fired power plants and such.  But I think a more likely source is probably from the historic use of lead and copper arsenates for pest control in farming.

In case these articles are of use to your future plans, here are two articles on arsenic and lead contamination in foods:

Rodale article about lead and arsenic contamination in Brussels sprouts, rice, beer and wine

Consumer Reports 2012 testing apple and grape juices for lead and arsenic content

And a really interesting publication about lead and arsenic in historic orchard areas, and some remediation techniques:

The History of Lead Arsenate Use in Apple Production :  Comparison  of  its Impact in Virginia with Other States

See page 21 of the above publication.  They talk about using the brake fern to remediate, as it accumulates arsenic.  They mention other plants studied for remediation potential, as well.

The brake fern, Pteris vittata (Fig. 19), was also studied as a way to draw out arsenic from the soil. (See the section on “Remediation” for more information on phytoremediation and the brake fern.) A nontoxic chemical agent, EDTA, was applied first to “loosen” the metals from the surrounding sand and clay, making them more available to the plants (Quillin, 2000). Fern shoots, grown in contaminated soil, had arsenic concentrations up to 20 times higher than the soil arsenic concentrations found in the soil (Salido et al., 2003).




 
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This person/site/book might be of use to you: http://earthrepair.ca/ ; I plan to get the book, and am looking forward to reading it myself.
I was listening to an interview with Leila Darwish (the author), and a couple of things came out, which match all that I know about the metal pollution and remediation.

1) Metals like lead and arsenic are elements, and as such are not destroyed.  The best you can do is try to lock them up, or concentrate them and send them to a toxic waste repository off site. Be careful about locking them up too - for example, if you try to get them into non-food trees, what happens if those trees burn?

2) There isn't at this time an easy or fast solution.  This is a project for a lifetime and beyond.

3) I'm assuming your site is badly contaminated, on the order of the mines I've seen in West Virginia. Be careful, when working with it, not to poison yourself.  Make sure you have a budget for soil and water tests, and - if the levels are really high - take steps to avoid taking it in. Leila Darwish mentions knowing people who work with toxic sites who develop multiple chemical sensitivity afterward.  Believe me, that is not fun!

Best of luck to you - this type of grassroots bioremediation is certainly vital, and probably the only way we will get anything done!
 
Marco Banks
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Cottonwood trees grow very quickly and are a great species for bioremediation.  They LOVE water and if they have a close source of water (a creek or pond) they get absolutely massive and live a long time -- 75 to 100 years is common.
 
Kim Goodwin
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Arundo grass/cane might also be an option.  The stuff is incredibly tolerant of heat and pretty tolerant of rough sandy soil.  I see it growing here in peoples yards, in the Mojave Desert, generally in greywater patches.  But it seems to tolerate fair stretches of no water, too.  I was looking it up as a desert carbon/fiber/cane source, and found out about it's bioremediation potential.  It doesn't spread by seed in the US, which is very interesting and useful considering it is thought of as an "invasive".

The wiki page for Arundo donax, Giant Cane.  And a quote:

Giant reed is adapted to a wide variety of ecological conditions, but is generally associated with riparian and wetland systems. It is distributed across the southern United States from Maryland to California. Plants can grow in a variety of soils, from heavy clays to loose sands and gravelly soils, but prefer wet drained soils, where they produce dense monotypic stands. Giant reed was found to grow rapidly in soil contaminated with arsenic, cadmium and lead; limited metal translocation from roots to shoots accounted for its strong tolerance to heavy metals.[11] The same study determined that accumulations of As, Cd and Pb were high in roots but low in shoots, where SEM images showed thick and homogeneous stem tissue characteristics. In Pakistan, where the presence of arsenic has made risky the use of ground waters as a source of drinking water, a research study highlighted the phytoremediation potential of A. donax when grown in hydroponics cultures containing arsenic concentrations up to 1000 µg l−1.[12] Giant reed was able to translocate the metals absorbed into the shoot and to accumulate metals in the stalk and leaves above the root concentration, showing no toxic effects at As concentrations up to 600 µg l−1.



What's bizarre is that this plant is so demonized. This certainly reminds me of the permaculture saying I'm only familiar with from geoff lawton (not sure if he coined it, though), "The 'problem' is the solution." Definitely!

 
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Seems like the preliminary research is divided on it's effectiveness - it takes it in, but mostly into the roots, which would be more difficult to remove from the land, making the remediation less effective overall.

Giant reed is demonized (in the southwest US, at least) because it is an incredible wildland fire risk when dry, and creates food deserts on freshwater shoreline by shading out native vegetation. 

Do you have a source for the info that it doesn't spread by seed in the US? Is it genetics, or environment/climate that prevent it?


The same study determined that accumulations of As, Cd and Pb were high in roots but low in shoots, where SEM images showed thick and homogeneous stem tissue characteristics. In Pakistan, where the presence of arsenic has made risky the use of ground waters as a source of drinking water, a research study highlighted the phytoremediation potential of A. donax when grown in hydroponics cultures containing arsenic concentrations up to 1000 µg l−1.[12] Giant reed was able to translocate the metals absorbed into the shoot and to accumulate metals in the stalk and leaves above the root concentration, showing no toxic effects at As concentrations up to 600 µg l−1.



What's bizarre is that this plant is so demonized. This certainly reminds me of the permaculture saying I'm only familiar with from Geoff Lawton (not sure if he coined it, though), "The 'problem' is the solution." Definitely!



 

 
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