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International Journal of Phytoremediation
Vol. 10, No: 2, 2008, Pages: 131 - 58

Heavy metal pollution in aquatic ecosystems and its phytoremediation using wetland plants: an ecosustainable approach

Rai PK

Forest Ecology Biodiversity and Environmental Sciences, School of Earth Sciences and Natural Resource Management, Mizoram Central University, Tanhril, Aizawl, India.


This review addresses the global problem of heavymetal pollution originating from increased industrialization and urbanization and its amelioration by using wetland plants both in a microcosm as well as natural/field condition. Heavymetal contamination in aquatic ecosystems due to discharge of industrial effluents may pose a serious threat to human health. Alkaline precipitation, ion exchange columns, electrochemical removal, filtration, and membrane technologies are the currently available technologies for heavy metal removal. These conventional technologies are not economical and may produce adverse impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Phytoremediation of metals is a cost-effective "green" technology based on the use of specially selected metal-accumulating plants to remove toxic metals from soils and water. Wetland plants are important tools for heavy metal removal. The Ramsar convention, one of the earlier modern global conservation treaties, was adopted at Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 and became effective in 1975. This convention emphasized the wise use of wetlands and their resources. This review mentions salient features of wetland ecosystems, their vegetation component, and the pros and cons involved in heavy metal removal. Wetland plants are preferred over other bio-agents due to their low cost, frequent abundance in aquatic ecosystems, and easy handling. The extensive rhizosphere of wetland plants provides an enriched culture zone for the microbes involved in degradation. The wetland sediment zone provides reducing conditions that are conducive to the metal removal pathway. Constructed wetlands proved to be effective for the abatement of heavymetal pollution from acid mine drainage; landfill leachate; thermal power; and municipal, agricultural, refinery, and chlor-alkali effluent. the physicochemical properties of wetlands provide many positive attributes for remediating heavy metals. Typha, Phragmites, Eichhornia, Azolla, Lemna, and other aquatic macrophytes are some of the potent wetland plants for heavy metal removal. Biomass disposal problem and seasonal growth of aquatic macrophytes are some limitations in the transfer of phytoremediation technology from the laboratory to the field. However, the disposed biomass of macrophytes may be used for various fruitful applications. An ecosustainable model has been developed through the author's various works, which may ameliorate some of the limitations. The creation of more areas for phytoremediation may also aid in wetlands conservation. Genetic engineering and biodiversity prospecting of endangered wetland plants are important future prospects in this regard.




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