Wastewater Problem? Just Plant a Marsh

For some of the toughest environmental cleanups, plants can do it better and cheaper than we can

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Something like that has already happened to me. A few years ago (Phenomena, May 1989) I went back to Aruba, the formerly Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela where I had grown up. Years before I lived there, flat ponds had been dug to evaporate seawater for the salt. By 1989, I discovered, those ponds had been turned into a tertiary sewage-treatment system. My friend and I had asked for the hotel closest to a nature center and got what we wanted--the hotel closest to the sewage-treatment plant. Except it was deep green with vegetation (the island is otherwise very arid) and loaded, just loaded, with birds of every kind.

Most of these phytoremediation schemes are still experimental. Yet the idea of using fields of flowers rather than brute-force mechanical methods seems so intuitive, so attractive, that I can't help thinking that in the long run, we will be hearing more about it.

By John P. Wiley, Jr.


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