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Dig for Gold,
reap Poison?

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Professor Peter Felix-Henningsen is out and about in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. When he wants to buy some turnips, his Georgian colleague Professor Tengiz Urushadze prevents him from doing so: the vegetable could be contaminated, as it originates from Bolnisi in the Mashavera valley. The soils in this valley are suspected to be contaminated with heavy metals. The German soil scientist’s interest is kindled: he wants to examine the turnips back home - the Georgian researchers lack the proper equipment. They visualise their concerns with help of satellite images: close to Bolnisi gold and copper is mined and slag heaps are not protected from erosion. Does this mean that water contaminated with heavy metals is seeping into the valley? Has the mine been poisoning agricultural fields for decades already? And what would the consequences be for people, animals, and plants?

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Golden Danger

Georgia used to be the vegetable garden of the Soviet Union. Today soil scientists fear that the plants are contaminated with heavy metals: have gold and copper mines been poisoning agricultural fields of the Caucasus for decades?

Deep scars, bare slopes

The economy of Georgia depends on mining, the soil’s treasures are just too valuable. Issues and questions regarding nature and conservation and the consequences of the mining have therefore long been ignored.

Brown sludge

The rivers and streams in the Mashavera valley are extremely acidic – water samples prove, that the mine flushes its toxic residues into the environment. Are Georgia’s neighbours also threatened?

Helpless farmers

The inhabitants of the Mashavera valley are forced to use the contaminated water – they have no alternative. Will agriculture have to be prohibited in the valley?

Alarming findings

Do the soil samples really contain toxins? The laboratory in Tbilisi lacks the necessary technology for the detailed examination. Only in Gießen do the samples reveal their dangerous load.

Toxine magnet from Gießen

The analysis of the plant samples provides sobering results: they are partially heavily contaminated with cadmium. But Felix-Hennigsen has an idea. Can he save the poisoned soils?

Tiny Indicators

The soils of the Mashavera valley used to be amongst the best in the world – today they are under threat. Have even the crucial microorganisms in the topsoil been damaged already?

Iron versus Gold

The research team from Gießen has found an effective protection from toxins. Will it stand the test?

Delayed anger – open letter

The facts are overwhelming, it is time to act: only if the Georgian-German research team can find partners in politics and science, can they hope for a change of attitude.

Fruitful Cooperation

With their iron powder experiments the researchers in the Mashavera valley are treading an uncoventional path which could yield completely new findings for the agricultural and environmental sciences.
Ask the Scientists
Do you have questions or comments concerning this project? We are looking forward to your contribution:

The latest Questions

Keta fromTbilisi, 04.03.2013
Question: Im working on the ecological paper and would like to know he dates of your study on Heavy Metal Pollution of the Mashavera Valley, the one in context with Copper Mining company Madneuli.
Dear Keta,
we studied the heavy metal pollution in two research projects, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, within the period from 2001 until 2012. You will find more information here.
Best regards
Prof. Peter Felix-Hennigsen



*) The Project

Georgia used to be the vegetable, tea, and fruit garden for the Soviet Union. And even today, 20 years after its declaration of independence, the country in the Caucasus is dependent on its agriculture. But the population’s livelihood is threatened by massive environmental problems. In the Mashavera valley soil scientist Peter Felix-Henningsen from the Justus-Liebig University in Gießen and his Georgian colleagues find soils highly contaminated with heavy metals. The often highly toxic substances originate from slag from opencast gold and copper mines. They pollute the rivers and contaminate the soils via irrigation of agricultural fields with river water, which then leads to contamination of farmed vegetables and hence human foods. Can the soils still be saved? The scientists begin their work.

Peter Felix-Henningsen

Professor Dr. Peter Felix-Henningsen was practically born with an interest in agriculture and soil science. He grew up on a farm, where his drive for research was subject to ideal conditions from a very early age. Today the professor for soil sciences and soil conservation at the Justus-Liebig University in Gießen is mainly concerned with the development of strategies for soil conservation in developing and emerging countries. For sciencemovies, he documents his examination of the polluted soil in the Mashavera valley in Georgia.
Soil scientist Peter Felix-Henningsen analyses how toxins from gold mining get into foods in Georgia.

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