Clearing Pollutants out of the Soil (and Keeping them out of your food)

With the recent Ohio train derailment, there’s been a lot of talk about soil, air, and water pollution, as well as health impacts.

I make no claim to having all the answers, but my first thought when I heard about the derailment was, “They deal with these chemicals all the time. Aren’t there standard procedures for dealing with spills?”

That was closely followed by, “What type of chemical reactions are going on? If we’re dealing with acids, we need a base. If we’re dealing with strong bases, we need acids to neutralize.”

The choice to intentionally breach 5 rail cars containing vinyl chloride and set the contents on fire created hydrochloric acid, among other things. This is the original EPA statement to the railroad.

We can neutralize acids with a base, like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). (More on that in this article –

The tougher contaminants to eliminate includes substances like dioxins. Dioxins bioaccumulate, and don’t break down easily. More on concerns here –

Back when I worked in the solar industry, we were experimenting with using solar to boost bioremediation. Bioremediation is using naturally occurring organisms to clean up pollution. I’ve also read about mycoremediation – using fungi/mushrooms to clean up pollution.

There’s been work done with both of these options that looks promising for cleaning up this mess.

There are bacteria and fungi that break down these chemicals. The study Microbial degradation of chlorinated dioxins talks about microbial strains that get the job done, but this isn’t direct help for those of us looking to clean up our soil sooner rather than later. (I don’t know if strains of these bacteria can be ordered from somewhere, but I will keep looking to see if I can find anything.)

There is a fungus that’s easy to grow that can also help with clean up – common “white-rot” wood fungi. If you’ve ever left a pile of sawdust or wood mulch laying around, odds are you’ve seen white rot wood fungi.

It turns out these fungi chew through persistent organic chemicals much the same way they chew through wood lignin. (Link to a study of bioremediation using white rot fungus.)

We use ramial wood mulch all over our garden and orchard, and it’s loaded with fungi. I think that the more you can do to improve your soil health and make it biologically active, the better your odds of breaking down contaminants.

Building soil health also helps to keep plants from absorbing contaminants.

In the book “The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture“, Dr. Arden Andersen notes that their testing revealed that plants growing in biologically active, remineralized soils did not draw in toxins.

On the flip side, plants growing in soils in poor condition pulled in toxins (like glyphosate), even when it had been years since they had been applied to the soil.

There’s no magic bullet to make this stuff go away immediately, but boosting overall soil health encourages the growth of beneficial microbes and makes it less likely plants absorb the toxins.

How to boost the soil health is one of the areas we want to focus on in the new membership program, Growing Healthy. There’s so much more to growing things than digging in some highly processed NPK fertilizer. (The over processed fertilizers can actually damage soil life and make crops dependent on them long term, so you have to keep adding more to get the same yield.)

I’ll be back this weekend with the regular newsletter.

All my best to you and yours,


P.S. I missed the link for the strawberry rhubarb jam in last weekend’s newsletter. The jam recipe is at

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