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Int J Phytoremediation. 2004;6(2):95-109.

Enhanced phytoextraction: in search of EDTA alternatives.

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  • 1Department of Applied Analytical and Physical Chemistry, Faculty of Applied Biological Science, Ghent University, Belgium.


Enhanced phytoextraction proposes the use of soil amendments to increase the heavy-metal content of above-ground harvestable plant tissues. This study compares the effect of synthetic aminopolycarboxylic acids [ethylenediamine tetraacetatic acid (EDTA), nitriloacetic acid (NTA), and diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA)] with a number of biodegradable, low-molecular weight, organic acids (citric acid, ascorbic acid, oxalic acid, salicylic acid, and NH4 acetate) as potential soil amendments for enhancing phytoextraction of heavy metals (Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb, and Ni) by Zea mays. The treatments in this study were applied at a dose of 2 mmol/kg(-1) 1 d before sowing. To compare possible effects between presow and postgermination treatments, a second smaller experiment was conducted in which EDTA, citric acid, and NH4 acetate were added 10 d after germination as opposed to 1 d before sowing. The soil used in this screening was a moderately contaminated topsoil derived from a dredged sediment disposal site. This site has been in an oxidized state for more than 8 years before being used in this research. The high carbonate, high organic matter, and high clay content characteristic to this type of sediment are thought to suppress heavy-metal phytoavailability. Both EDTA and DTPA resulted in increased levels of heavy metals in the above-ground biomass. However, the observed increases in uptake were not as large as reported in the literature. Neither the NTA nor organic acid treatments had any significant effect on uptake when applied prior to sowing. This was attributed to the rapid mineralization of these substances and the relatively low doses applied. The generally low extraction observed in this experiment restricts the use of phytoextraction as an effective remediation alternative under the current conditions, with regard to amendments used, applied dose (2 mmol/kg(-1) soil), application time (presow), plant species (Zea mays), and sediment (calcareous clayey soil) under study.

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