Non-narcotic industrial hemp could be Port Pirie's saviour: Mayor

CHALLENGE: Mayor Leon Stephens says Port Pirie could exploit non-narcotic industrial hemp to reduce lead contamination and provide a cash crop.
CHALLENGE: Mayor Leon Stephens says Port Pirie could exploit non-narcotic industrial hemp to reduce lead contamination and provide a cash crop.

Could non-narcotic Indian hemp crops become an environmental and commercial success story in Port Pirie?

Mayor Leon Stephens thinks the community should look at using the plant to suck lead from the soil and have spin-off benefits of products such as clothes.

He said the industrial hemp was safe because it “doesn’t have the buzz people get from marijuana”.

He reacted to reports that the hemp would remove more lead than sunflowers planted off the Main Street.

“How much contamination does it remove from the soil? What is the harm in finding whether it is twice as successful as sunflower seed,” he said.

“Why would we not plant it? As a community we have probably missed a few opportunities during the years.”

The Targeted Lead Abatement Program is involved in the sunflower project which uses phytoremediation to remove lead.

A spokesperson for the group said that in theory the use of industrial hemp to remediate soil could be effective in Port Pirie, but it was not a viable option at this stage.

“The cultivation of industrial hemp in South Australia is supported by the Industrial Hemp Act and its regulatory and licensing framework,” the spokesperson said.

“The introduction and management of such a regulated and controlled crop would not be in the best interests of TLAP to pursue. It would both cost-prohibitive and too time-consuming to manage. 

“Other plants were explored for the phytoremediation trial, including a member of the Mustard genus.

“Based on the research undertaken, the common sunflower was chosen for its hyper-accumulation capacity.”

The spokesperson said TLAP would not consider planting hemp to reduce lead contamination and provide a cash crop for future production of clothes or materials.

“Broadly, TLAP’s remit is to improve community health outcomes by reducing blood-lead levels in young children," the spokesperson said.

“As with sunflowers, any other plant used to phytoremediate sites around Port Pirie would need to be manually harvested and disposed of in a manner which will not allow for the re-entrainment of contaminated materials.”

The spokesperson said it was correct to say that even if industrial hemp was planted here, it could not be harvested and used to make products.

“While hemp could be used for industrial purposes such as making ethanol, it could not be used for therapeutic applications because of the potential heavy-metal content,” the spokesperson said.

“There would be take-up of lead and other contaminants. This would restrict its uses, for instance, as a food product.”

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