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What is Groundwater Remediation?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

Groundwater remediation is a type of environmental cleanup which focuses on addressing pollution of groundwater supplies. The goal of a groundwater remediation plan is to turn polluted water into clean water, or to sequester polluted water so that people will not be exposed to danger and to prevent the spread of the pollutant. Classically, this activity is performed by government agencies, although private companies also offer remediation services for people and organizations concerned about contaminated groundwater.

The first step in groundwater remediation involves identification of the contaminants which are making groundwater unclean. Identification is important because the remediation plan will vary, depending on the type of pollution involved. It also allows the people performing the administration to identify the source of the pollution, as addressing the source is a critical part of a remediation plan.

Once the source is identified, a remediation plan can be developed. The remediation plan usually involves removal or containment of the source so that contamination cannot continue, along with cleanup of the groundwater itself to remove the pollutant. A number of approaches can be used including introducing microorganisms which will eat the contaminant, aggressive filtering, or chemical treatment to neutralize the contaminant. If the groundwater or source cannot be cleaned up, it will be necessary to contain the pollution to prevent spread.

Groundwater remediation is important for a number of reasons. Because potable water is a limited resource, cleanup of groundwater can free up supplies for irrigation or drinking, reducing strain on water supplies. Environmental cleanup also benefits the natural environment, by ensuring that plants and animals are not injured as a result of exposure to contaminants. Water which has been polluted with pharmaceuticals, for example, could cause developmental abnormalities in fish which could lead to a decline in fish populations, thereby upsetting natural ecosystems.

Paying for groundwater remediation can get very costly, because water is notoriously difficult to treat. Tracing the source of the contamination can reveal a responsible party, such as a company which has been releasing contaminants into waterways, and this company may be obligated to pay for the cleanup. If the responsible party has gone out of business or cannot be identified, the government may be required to step in and pay for the remediation process. A number of governments around the world now require companies to carry environmental insurance, so that in the event that the companies are liable for an environmental remediation, the government will not have to pay for it.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By fify — On Apr 20, 2011

I'm glad that we have different options for cleaning groundwater. But I do wish that there would be faster working new methods found. With so many facilities all across the country (and the world), I don't think we are able to keep up with the rate of contamination and pollution.

Having remediation capabilities is great but I think that the true objective should be preventing it from happening in the first place. The article touched a great point, that we need to first find the source of contamination. We can clean up all we want but the problem won't be solved until the source stops polluting the environment and water.

By bear78 — On Apr 18, 2011

@burcinc-- Yes, they run tests and then compare findings with the information from the Environmental Protection Agency.

I don't think that this just applies to chemicals. Like, there might be lead in groundwater naturally but it's only considered dangerous if it's above a certain amount. That amount is determined by the EPA. That's how they know that remediation is needed.

By burcinc — On Apr 15, 2011

How do we tell that groundwater is polluted enough to need remediation? Do they just run a test on the water and look for bad substances and chemicals?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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