Phytoremediation for the Elimination of Metals, Pesticides, PAHs, and Other Pollutants from Wastewater and Soil

  • Hussein I. Abdel-Shafy
  • Mona S. M. Mansour


Phytoremediation is an important process that uses plants, green vegetation, trees, aquatic plants, and grasses to remove, stabilize, transfer, and/or destroy toxic pollutants from surface water, groundwater, wastewater, sediments, soils, and/or external atmosphere. The phytoremediation mechanisms include phytoextraction (i.e., phytoaccumulation), enhanced rhizosphere biodegradation, phytostabilization, and phytodegradation. Certain plant species have the tendency and the ability to accumulate and store pollutants such as metals and organic contaminants in their roots. The remediation of pollutants includes translocation, accumulation, transpiration, and possibly metabolization of the organic contaminants to plant tissue or CO2. They also prevent the flow of groundwater from transferring pollutants away from the site to the deeper.

Many countries have been successfully remediated several million acres of contaminated soil and land by employing soil phytoremediation technology. The biodegradability of given pollutants is affected by several factors, including the physical-chemical properties of the contaminants and how the soil can influence and affect its chemical state. Nevertheless, the high costs of the conventional physical and chemical strategies hindered these efforts. Thus, the use of higher plants, bacteria, microalgae, and fungi is feasible for degrading persistent contaminants. Phytostimulation process is known as “rhizosphere degradation,” in which degradation of the pollutants is achieved by organisms that are associated with the plant roots.

Phytoextraction or phytoaccumulation is the uptake, accumulation, and concentration of pollutants from the contaminated environment by the roots of plant. The pollutants are then translocated/accumulated into the plant biomass. Phytoabsorption, phytosequestration, or phytoaccumulation involves the absorption of pollutants by the plant roots followed by translocation and accumulation in the aerial parts. This took place mainly in the uptake of heavy metals as well as organic compounds. In addition, the hyper-accumulator plants have the tendency to store reasonable concentrations of certain metals in their tissues. On the other hand, the phenomenon of producing chemical compounds by plant to immobilize pollutants at the interface of soil and roots is described as “phytostabilization.” However, the phytovolatilization technique relies and depends on the ability of certain plants to volatilize and absorb some metals/metalloids. Rhizofiltration is the process through which plants concentrate, absorb, and/or precipitate pollutants, such as heavy metals and/or radioactive elements, from an aqueous medium.

The importance of the phytoremediation process is that it is efficient for the removal of toxic organic aromatic pollutants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), explosives (RDX, TNT, HMX), pesticide, landfill leachates, as well as herbicide contamination. Phytoremediation process is also efficient for wastewater and improving quality of water. Thus, employing phytoremediation in constructed wetland (CW) technology offers a low-cost treatment system for wastewater. Thus, CWs are perfect for the decentralized treatment of wastewater for offering great potential for the phytoremediation of contaminants and removal of pathogens and toxic substances. In conclusion, phytoremediation is an emerging “green bioengineering technology” that uses plants to remediate environmental problems. Green plants (both aquatic and terrestrial) have the wonderful properties of environmental restoration, such as decontamination of polluted soil and water. In general, the phytoremediation technology has several advantages and disadvantages that should be considered when applying such process. The low cost is one of the most important advantages. However, the time needed to observe the necessary achievement can be long. The concentration of contaminants should also be considered.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hussein I. Abdel-Shafy
    • 1
  • Mona S. M. Mansour
    • 2
  1. 1.Water Research and Polluted Control DepartmentNational Research CentreCairoEgypt
  2. 2.Analysis & Evaluation DepartmentEgyptian Petroleum Research Institute, 1 Ahmed El-Zomor StreetNasr City, CairoEgypt

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