Sunflowers for Change

new cross sunflowers
Photo by Sunflowers for Change on Facebook.

Phytoremediation is the use of plants to save the environment, a method which Bridget Llanes and Bernadette Hardy from the University of New Mexico are highly involved in.  Not far from their hometowns lies a major source of contamination to the surrounding neighborhood known as the Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) Jet Fuel Spill. Twenty four million gallons of volatile, carcinogenic chemicals sit five hundred feet below the surface in Albuquerque New Mexico.

The spill is said to have traveled over two miles from where the leak originated. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Bridget Llanes at the UB McNair Research Conference in Niagara Falls, New York. Since learning of the spill, Bridget has immersed herself in working with community members to build gardens on the spill sight. She educated herself on the topic, attends meetings of KAFB Citizen’s Advisory Board, and connects with the public to spread the word about this environmental hazard. Currently, Bridget Llanes aids locals in testing their water and soil supply. In addition, she has helped create gardens full of plants that are known to have phytoremediation properties such as sunflowers. Sunflowers are capable of measuring the toxins in the atmosphere and could provide a method of tracing the after-effects of the KAFB spill. Overall, I think the measurements taken by the residents of Albuquerque New Mexico to improve the health of their environment are tremendous and I wish them the best of luck in making their hometown safe once again. Below are some important questions that Bridget Llanes answered.

gray cat near brown vase with sunflowers
Photo by Buenosia Carol on

What are your plans for the future direction of Sunflowers for Change?

We are looking for alliances in the community and at the University of New Mexico to help support our work. We need to make more connections with folks in the Chemistry, Engineering, and Public Health fields so that we can continue this research effectively and get the spill cleaned up!  We would like to meet with the people working on the clean-up from Kirtland Air Force Base to talk with them seriously about our communities concerns. Hopefully more real dialogue will only improve the clean-up/remediation process.  Once all 5 gardens have been built this season we will kick off a Healing Rain Garden tour event to introduce more people in the neighborhood to our work, and showcase the gardens. All in all we will plant at least 15 gardens. We have 4 down, so lots of gardening to come!

light nature sky sunset
Photo by Pixabay on

What career do you intend to pursue after you achieve your educational goals?

There are many things I enjoy doing, and it is my hope that I can integrate my interests into the work that I do. I can see myself still working with communities to remediate brownfield sites/sites of contamination, would like to be a part of a women’s co-op to recycle fabrics locally and create beautiful clothing and textiles, and work with youth to create green businesses like farmer’s markets, solar installation, Healing Rain Gardens, etc.

selective focus photo of obalte green leafed plants during rain
Photo by Bibhukalyan Acharya on

Do you think environmental change and regrowth is in the times ahead for New Mexico? Or is environmental damage building to a catastrophic and irreversible level in this state?

It is heartening to know that I am not the only one working towards the healing of our lands. There are many knowledgeable people who are passionate about the environment in this state. I think it is possible to reduce environmental pollution, but places that create contamination like Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Sandia Labs, etc….must stop contaminating the earth. This means that their emphasis needs to shift from nuclear production to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and even the garbage and waste powered solutions. The innovative technology is there, but New Mexico must be willing to move away from coal, gas, oil, and nuclear powered energy.

Like this movement on Facebook at Sunflowers For Change to keep updated on Bridget’s work!

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