Taranto, a coastal city in Italy known for its bustling commercial ports and military activities, is at a crossroads. The third most polluted city in the world is a hub for oil refineries, chemical plants and food processing factories. These establishments also share the land with local farmers who raise sheep and sell cheese for a living.
In 2008, after contaminants from a large steel plant rendered the soil useless, yearly livestock and crop yields plummeted, hitting an all-time low.
That incident crippled the local farming industry; and now, farmers have stumbled upon a solution that could make polluted soil fit for agricultural operations. The process involves planting cannabis (specifically industrial hemp) around the affected area, which should help extract some of the toxic contaminants, such as heavy metals, from the ground.
This practice was also applied after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. During clean-up projects that followed the tragic event, scientists used hemp to reduce high levels of iodine, cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium in the soil.
Farmers based in Taranto are implementing phytoremediation to make land more conducive for plants and animals. Cannabis is suitable for this process because it is extremely resilient, allowing it to grow in rough environments, and its roots are sturdy enough to absorb toxic metals. After absorption, the plant can either store the contaminants or transform the pollutants into something usable and harmless. Hemp’s lifecycle doesn’t end after soil decontamination. The city could turn the green plant into biofuel to support its fleet of naval vessels and commercial shipping operations.
Vincenzo Fornaro, a Taranto farmer currently growing hemp to promote decontamination, believes that cannabis could make the future brighter for the struggling agricultural community.
“We must innovate,” said Fornaro during an interview with CBS News, “and develop in a way that’s ecologically sound.”
Italy’s Growing Interest in Cannabis
Italy has shown renewed interest in cannabis in the past few years. Recently, the country’s military grow site, located in Florence, was featured on various media outlets. The massive indoor facility is home to more than 100 plants, yielding roughly 18 pounds of top-shelf cannabis for medical research and regulated consumption. By the end 2017, the institution hopes to launch four new chambers, which could increase production to 220 pounds. This is great news for the country’s estimated 3,000 patients who rely on medicinal cannabis for natural treatments.
To help streamline allocation, Italy’s Health Ministry released a timely guide for physicians, pharmacists and other medical professionals with authorization to sell cannabis. The guide includes tips surrounding the plant’s side effects, dosing and administration. Italy’s medical-grade cannabis is rich in CBD and contains average to low amounts of THC.
“One thing it [cannabis] works well for is fibromyalgia, a condition for which there is no really effective medicine,” explained Pierluigi Davolio, a Florence pharmacist. “We had a patient here who had sold her car because she was in too much pain to be able to drive. As soon as she started (taking cannabis), she was back at the garage saying she needed it back.”