Kenaf and Canola Clean up Selenium

By George Grow

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

American scientists have identified two plants they say do a good job of cleaning up soil and water containing the mineral selenium. Their studies confirm that the plants -- kenaf and canola -- help to remove harmful amounts of selenium from the environment. They also found that canola with moderate levels of selenium might provide a safe food for some farm animals.

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service supervised the studies in the state of California. The Research Service is part of the United States Department of Agriculture.

People and animals require selenium for good health. However, too much of the mineral can be harmful.

The American scientists say using kenaf or canola could improve public drinking water that comes from underground water supplies. They say the plants also could improve the safety of water in lakes used by wildlife.

Kenaf is a fast-growing plant similar to cotton. Kenaf can be made into a kind of paper. Its color does not change as the paper ages. Kenaf also can be made into bedding for animals, building products, or products for cleaning up chemical or oil spills.

Canola can be made into a healthful vegetable oil for people. Canola plants also provide high-protein food for farm animals The American scientists say plants used to treat areas with high levels of selenium might be sold later as a food for animals in areas with low selenium levels.

The scientists studied the effects of feeding selenium-rich canola to lambs and cows. Half of the animals were fed canola that had been used to treat selenium in water. The amount of selenium in canola was measured to make sure it was safe. The scientists also measured selenium levels in the animals' blood and milk.

The scientists say all the animals stayed in good health during the study. None showed signs of getting too much selenium from the canola. Also, an earlier study suggested the environment is not likely to be harmed from selenium in waste products from the animals. That means animals could still safely eat plants growing in the area.

The American scientists say it is too early to call for feeding selenium-rich plants to animals. But they say the early results are promising.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English