Sustainable management of metal & metalloid polluted, marginal soils


The use of phytotechnologies to remove, contain, inactivate, or degrade harmful environmental contaminants (generally termed phytoremediation) is an emerging technology, and possibly a new business area connected to sustainable management (i.e. biomass production adding land value and carbon sequestration). In spite of growing public and commercial interest and success, more demonstration experiments are needed to measure the underlying economics, to increase public acceptance and last but not least, to convince and support policy makers and industry people.

The aim of the symposium is to address the real issues for successful and sustainable phytotechnology applications, whether to reduce the environmental impact of trace element contamination by stopping erosion and preventing metal leaching, extracting metals (either as an economically driven process or as a collateral effect) as part of the remediation process, or revegetation for biomass production (e.g. as bioenergy feedstocks; production of high value crops for oil, fiber, dyes, or scents, without the danger of metal transfer to the food chain; or carbon credits).

The symposium will present an overview of existing information concerning the use of plants for the remediation/rehabilitation of metal/metalloid-contaminated soils and metal-rich massive mine wastes. Both site decontamination (phytoextraction) and stabilization techniques (phytostabilization) will be discussed. In addition to the plant itself, the advantages and disadvantages of the application of soil amendments for mobilization (in case of phytoextraction) and immobilization (in case of phytostabilization) will be discussed. Compatibility of treatment options, including stimulation of rhizodegradation, will be considered for soils with mixed contamination (trace elements and organics). The economical impacts of changed land-use, cost-benefit aspects of phytoremediation and eventual valorisation of biomass in terms of sustainable management will be also addressed.

It will facilitate discussions of:

  • Why are sites being remediated: legislative pressure, public opinion, public health risk, environmental risk awareness, value and end-use of the sites?
  • Best practices for efficient remediation using selective, complementary options: which strategies are the most effective and sustainable?
  • Limitations for sustainable plant growth, including soil quality, water supply, etc.
  • Risk of biological reactions, e.g. creation of conditions that promote undesired microbial processes, including methylation of metals to more toxic species.
  • Ecosystem restoration/rehabilitation: effects of various (phyto)remediation options on soil properties and the responses of plants, microbial communities and soil fauna.
  • Which processes can create added value to make remediation part of a sustainable land-management option.
  • Myth-busters - what NOT to do: chelators, try to return to the original plant formation or ecosystem irrespective of the site, etc.
  • The success stories and failures: why is it that bioremediation (incl. phytotechnologies) is so often presented as the most promising strategy, but that after an initial small scale experiment most field sites are abandoned.
  • An overview of the most successful phytoremediation projects, both from the past (Maatheide, Bunker Hill) and present (Chilean mining sites).

Specific topics include:

Topic 1: successful large scale immobilization of trace elements and revegetation of the site.

  • Environmental, economical, legal and social drivers that created the conditions for successful implementation of a phytostabilization concept.
  • Primary aim is risk containment, such as erosion, leaching, exposure; metal removal is not an issue.

Topic 2: phytoextraction of trace elements as an integrated part of land management.

  • In addition to containment, metal extraction becomes the (primary) aim of the remediation approach.
  • Metals/metalloids (and plant biomass) have a value that contributes to the sustainability of the approach; metals should be removed due to other issues.
  • How to improve phytoremediation efficiency and what NOT to do.

Topic 3: alternative land use for trace element polluted sites.

  • Economic drivers other then phytoextraction: feedstock production for bioenergy (Brassica for biodiesel, poplar for lignocellulosic ethanol), carbon sequestration (CO2 credits), other high value crops.

Committee (Symposium Organizers).

  • Daniel van der Lelie, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Biology Department, Upton, NY11973, USA; phone: +1-631-344 5349; e-mail:
  • Alan Baker, School of Botany, The University of Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia; phone: +61-3-8344 5055; e-mail:
  • Rosanna Ginocchio, Chilean Research Center for Mining and Metallurgy (CIMM), Ave. Parque Antonio Rabat 6500, Viticura, ZC766045, Santiago, Chile; phone: +56-2-585 6338; e-mail:
  • Michel Mench, UMR BIOGECO INRA 1202, Ecology of Communities, University of Bordeaux 1, Bât B8 RdC Est, Avenue des Facultés, F-33405 Talence, France ; phone : +33-540003114; e-mail:
  • Jaco Vangronsveld, Universiteit Hasselt, Campus Diepenbeek, Environmental Biology Agoralaan, building D, B-3590 Diepenbeek, Belgium; phone: + 32-11-268331; e-mail:


Daniel van der Lelie, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Biology Department, Upton, NY11973, USA; phone: +1-631-344 5349; e-mail:

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