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Using Plants to Restore Healthy Soils

Ford is experimenting with a biological process called phytoremediation to remove PAH compounds from soil near the old Rouge coke ovens. PAH compounds are polyaromatic hydrocarbons, a by-product of decades of steel manufacturing. Many years ago, large furnaces called coke ovens were used in the steel-making process.

Phytoremediation uses plants, and the microbes attracted to their roots, to break down contaminants into harmless organic compounds which are absorbed into the roots. This process helps rid the soil of PAH compounds. It also filters storm water runoff, regenerates wildlife habitat, and beautifies the landscape.

The phytoremediation test site at the Rouge represents one of the world’s most ambitious studies of this process. Compared to conventional cleanup methods, phytoremediation:

  • Is more environmentally beneficial than removing impacted soil and hauling it to a landfill, which merely moves the problem from one site to another
  • Can cost less than excavating and landfilling
  • Is solar-energy driven
  • Adds beauty to the landscape through use of native plants including prairie dock, cardinal flower, New England aster and other perennials that clean soil
  • Restores wildlife habitats.

Working with scientists from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan– Dearborn, Ford is planting thousands of special perennials in a first-of-its-kind program to test their effectiveness in cleaning soil.
Courtesy Ford Motor Company.