As a grower, you’re always striving to cultivate the highest quality, healthiest, cleanest product possible. Because the truth, is you’re growing medicine — and medicine is supposed to make people better, not worse, right?
Unfortunately, a lot of the medicine on the market today is tainted with toxic contaminants that can trigger a host of unwanted health problems in the patients who consume it.
However, the good news is that as the industry has continued to mature, laboratory testing has become not only commonplace, but required in many jurisdictions. And that means that if growers want to have a viable product to take to market, they need to do their utmost to ensure they’re cultivating contaminant-free crops.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at one particularly insidious type of impurity — heavy metal contamination — as well as how you can eliminate toxic heavy metals in the plants you grow.
Heavy Metals In Plants: What Are They And How Do They Get There?
Before we go any further, we need to understand exactly what we’re talking about when we refer to toxic heavy metals.
In general, heavy metals are elements that have metalloid or metallic properties and carry an atomic number greater than 20. However, even within that category, there are some heavy metals that are beneficial to both humans and plants, while there are other heavy metals that are categorically toxic and potentially carcinogenic.
Heavy metals that are beneficial to plants and humans include:
In fact, if you take a multivitamin, chances are you’ll see these three metals listed in the ingredients. In small doses, these heavy metals are valuable micronutrients that our bodies absorb and put to use (though they can become toxic in high doses).
On the other hand, there are certain heavy metals that are absolutely toxic to humans and plants alike, meaning that no amount of these substances should ever be intentionally ingested. These toxic heavy metals include:
Ingesting these elements can cause a host of health problems for humans. Here’s a quick breakdown of the potential effects these toxic heavy metals can cause:
- Nickel: kidney and lung damage; nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; neurological problems; dermatitis
- Lead: headaches, irritability and abdominal pain; sleeplessness and restlessness as a result of lead encephalopathy; anemia; neurotoxicity; neuropathy; potentially cancer causing
- Mercury: lung damage; tremors; personality changes; depression; anxiety; restlessness; kidney damage; heart disease
- Arsenic: cardiovascular disease; hypertension; depression; melanosis; hyperkeratosis; polyneuropathy and encephalopathy; hemolysis; hepatomegaly; potentially cancer causing
- Cadmium: osteomalacia; bone fractures; kidney damage; potentially cancer causing
As you can see, these heavy metals are extremely dangerous and can cause serious problems for people if ingested. So, how do these toxic heavy metals end up in the plants we consume? The answer may shock you.
Heavy Metals In Nutrients
That’s right — heavy metals can be found in the fertilizers you’re using to grow your plants. But before we dive too deep into fertilizers and nutrients, let’s take a step back.
As a grower, one thing that’s critical to understand is that the high-value plants you grow are what’s known as accumulator plants. As you may have guessed, this means that they absorb everything in their environment, much like a sponge, and will soak up whatever chemicals and compounds they come into contact with.
In fact, the high-value plants that you grow are so effective at absorbing compounds from their environment that they are often used for soil remediation in places where toxic or radioactive elements have been released into the earth — just like Chernobyl, where they were used to remove much of the radioactive waste that spilled in the infamous nuclear disaster of 1986 in the Ukraine.
What’s more, the plants will hold onto these toxic elements all the way until harvest, and unless the plants are properly flushed, they’ll remain in the final product that will eventually be sold to — and ingested by — a consumer.
Now, let’s get back to heavy metals in nutrients. You’re probably aware that the three macronutrients needed to sustain your high-value crops are N, P and K — that is, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Most plant fertilizers and base nutrient formulations contain a ratio of NPK, and it’s usually stated on the product label.
However, what you may not be aware of is that phosphorus is the biggest potential source of heavy metal contamination in your plants.
Phosphorus: The Good, The Bad And The Toxic
The fact that phosphorus — one of the three major elements required to cultivate high-value plant life — aids in the introduction of heavy metals in plants presents quite the problem for growers.
Although phosphorus is a key component needed for growing plants, the truth is that phosphate ions form chelates with toxic heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel and mercury. Once the ions have bonded to the metals through the chelation process, they are transported into your plants.
The problem is worsened by the fact that a lot of raw phosphates that are used in the bulk production of plant nutrient formulations contain high amounts of toxic metal contaminants. These contaminants have been bonded to the phosphate ions for millions of years, ever since the phosphate deposits were first formed.
Nutrient manufacturers who use the cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel raw ingredients are the reason why you end up with heavy metals in fertilizers.
How To Grow Clean, Contaminant-Free Plants
Armed with this knowledge, the question now becomes: How can you provide your high-value plants the phosphorus they need, without pumping them full of harmful heavy metals that can potentially poison your patients?
The answer is much simpler than you may think.
You see, the research team at Advanced Nutrients has long known about the potential problems tainted phosphorus can cause your crop. That’s why the team uses only ultra-pure sources of raw phosphorus in all their products, including the industry-leading line of pH Perfect® base nutrients.
All Advanced Nutrients products, including our pH Perfect base nutrients, contain pharmaceutical-grade phosphorus in amounts that adhere to our low phosphorus policy. That means that every formulation containing our pH Perfect Technology contains the exact amount of phosphorus that plants need for a robust harvest, but no more than what is needed for optimal growth.
In fact, all Advanced Nutrients products have been shown to contain less-than-detectable amounts of regulated toxic elements.
By using only the purest raw phosphorus in the lowest effective amounts possible, pH Perfect base nutrients provide your plants the essential elements they need, without risking the health of your patients.
Plant Flushing: Your Last Line Of Defense Against Heavy Metal Contamination
In addition to using pH Perfect base nutrients in your garden, we recommend you always flush your plants as a final safeguard against any potential heavy metal contamination.
The importance of flushing your plants at the correct time and in the correct manner cannot be overstated. Throughout the grow cycle, your crops build up excess amounts of salts, nutrients and other compounds. Flushing your plants for anywhere from two weeks to two days (depending on your grow medium) prior to harvest will help eliminate these excess elements, along with any potential contaminants that remain in the plants.
The problem, though, is that many growers think that flushing with plain water is sufficient. It’s not — and, in fact, flushing your plants with water only can potentially degrade your crop quality. This is why it’s critical to use a flushing agent designed specifically for the high-value crops you grow.
The Dangers Of DIY Homebrews
Some growers think they can save money by preparing their own do-it-yourself nutrient homebrews. But this thinking is misguided.
As we’ve discussed, sourcing cheap raw ingredients can easily lead to high amounts of heavy metals in your final product — which will have a negative impact on the taste, quality and potency of your crops. And while you may save a few bucks on the front-end by mixing your own nutrients, you’ll end up losing money in the long run if your patients stop purchasing your product because of inferior quality.
Grow Contaminant-Free, Test-Ready Plants
The fact is, today’s consumers want to know the plants they’re consuming are safe. They want to see testing data showing that the plants are contaminant free. And they want high-quality, flavorful, potent medicine.
By growing with pH Perfect base nutrients and flushing with Flawless Finish, you’ll rest assured knowing your plants are receiving only the purest pharmaceutical-grade nutrients and are purged of excess compounds prior to your patients consuming them.