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Alok Bhandari



The extensive contamination of soil and groundwater resources has been an

undesirable consequence of the rapid industrialization experienced by the world's
developed and developing economies since World War II. Post-war successes in
enhancing the agricultural productivity of croplands led to an explosion of urban
populations, which in turn, resulted in an economy devoted to mass production of
consumables. This economic expansion was, to a great extent, fueled by energy
resources including petroleum, coal and nuclear power. The post-war years also
witnessed the manufacture and use of a variety of xenobiotic chemicals designed to
maintain the growing standards of living by preservation of food and other consumables.
The inappropriate use and disposal of natural and xenobiotic hazardous chemicals during
the second half of the 20th century have led to massive contamination of soils and
groundwater at sites across the United States and other countries. Today, these
contaminated sites include those that are polluted with toxins and carcinogens including
petroleum hydrocarbons, fuel additives, pesticides, heavy metals, radionuclides,
explosives, and solvents.
In the United States, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of
1976 and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act
(CERCLA or Superfund) of 1980 provided a major boost to cleanup efforts associated
with contaminated soils and groundwater. While originally funded at $1.6 billion to
clean 400 sites, CERCLA resulted in the discovery of additional sites expanding its
budget to $27 billion by 1990 (NRC, 1999). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) predicted that the number of sites requiring cleanup could increase to 2,000
costing up to $500 billion. By the end of 2005, the Superfund program had completed
construction at 966 or 62% of private and federal sites, and work was underway at 422
additional sites. More recent estimates expect the cost of environmental remediation of
such sites to easily exceed $1 trillion (NRC, 1997, 1999).


Remediation Technologies for Soils and Groundwater

Development and Use of Effective Remediation Technologies

Although sustained public and corporate funding of environmental cleanup

efforts is an important factor in realizing the restoration of contaminated sites, an equally
critical element is the availability of technologies capable of achieving the levels of
treatment necessary for appropriate environmental restoration. The vast experience
gained by engineers and remediation professionals with a variety of remediation
technologies over the past two decades has resulted in greater acceptance of several
technologies for soil and groundwater cleanup. However, most remediation engineers
have continued to prefer time-tested technologies even when some of these technologies
have repeatedly produced less-than-optimal restoration of contaminated sites. Preferred
technologies, such as pump-and-treat, and excavation-and-burial, have often risked
becoming 'cure-alls' for contaminated sites primarily due to the availability of extensive
past-performance and cost data. It is clear that remediation professionals need to more
aggressively explore the deployment of alternate effective technologies for site cleanup
while the regulatory agencies need to create the appropriate framework that allow these
technologies to be deployed and evaluated on the field.
The restoration of impacted soils and groundwater to ecologically sustainable
levels requires development, selection and deployment of remediation technologies
capable of responding to site-specific conditions. The development and adoption of new
technologies is facilitated by a combination of targeted research funding and market
demand for the technologies. While the market demand is influenced by project
economics and cleanup requirements enforced by regulatory agencies, the research
support for new technologies is linked to the general economy and competing public and
corporate interests. Over the past few decades, the EPA's Superfund Innovative
Technology Evaluation (SITE) program has been instrumental in facilitating field tests
of a variety of new technologies for soil and groundwater cleanup. SITE projects have
documented testing procedures, performance data and cost analyses from field-tests of
several hundred innovative technologies. Information about these treatment and
monitoring technologies is accessible at SITE's website:
The National Research Council's Committee on Innovative Remediation
Technologies recently offered several recommendations for stimulating the market
demand for new remediation technologies. These recommendations are summarized in
Table 1.1.

Remediation Technologies for Soils and Groundwater

Table 1.1. The National Research Council's recommendations to stimulate market

demand for new remediation technologies (NRC, 1997).
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should clarify and strictly enforce
requirements for disclosure of environmental remediation liabilities by all publicly traded
U.S. corporations
SEC should enforce environmental liability reporting requirements through third-party
environmental auditing
U.S. Congress should establish a program to allow companies to amortize reported
remediation liabilities over a 20- to 50-year period
EPA should improve its enforcement of Superfund and RCRA requirements
Managers of federally-owned contaminated sites should contract remediation projects on
a fixed-price basis and use independent peer review panels to check progress towards
EPA should review procedures for approving remediation technologies and develop
guidelines for increasing the consistency and predictability of these procedures among
regions and across programs
Congress and EPA should assess the option of establishing national standards for soil and
groundwater cleanup
The U.S. General Accounting Office should assess programs for licensing site
professionals to select remediation technologies on behalf of environmental regulators
EPA should establish a national registry of contaminated sites and make it publicly
available over the Internet


Types of Remediation Technologies for Soils and Groundwater

The successful cleanup of contaminated soils and groundwater depends on

factors such as contaminant characteristics, local climatic conditions, site hydrogeology,
and the type of technology used for site-restoration. Of these, the selection and
deployment of appropriate site-specific and contaminant-specific cleanup technologies is
the only factor under the influence of remediation professionals. It is, therefore, essential
that remediation professionals have a strong understanding of various types of
remediation technologies available in the market. Several such technologies are
summarized in Table 1.2 and are the topics of discussion in the remainder of this text.

Remediation Technologies for Soils and Groundwater

Table 1.2 Common soil and groundwater remediation technologies.

Physical treatment technologies
Free product recovery
Soil vapor extraction
Air sparging
Groundwater circulation wells
Multiphase extraction
Induced fracturing
Soil heating
Chemical treatment technologies

Chemical oxidation and reduction
Permeable reactive barriers
Adsorption and ion exchange
Electrochemical processes
Chemical leaching and solvent extraction
Soil flushing
Soil washing

Biological treatment technologies

Anaerobic biotransformation
Aerobic biotransformation
Biological fixation
Enzyme- catalyzed treatment
Saprotrophic fungal processes
Mycorrhizal fungal processes
Biological reactors
Monitored natural attenuation

NRC (1997) Innovations in Groundwater and Soil Cleanup, National Research Council,
National Academy Press, Washington DC.
NRC (1999) Groundwater and Soil Cleanup, National Research Council, National
Academy Press, Washington DC.