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What Is Site Remediation?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Site remediation is the process of removing pollutants and contaminants from a plot of land. These pollutants can include many different types of hazardous waste that may be harmful to human health or the environment. This remediation may be aimed at cleaning up the soil, water bodies, groundwater, or air within a particular area.

There are a number of materials that can cause a site to require remediation, including by-products from manufacturing and industrial waste or high levels of chemical concentration from any number of sources. Site remediation is usually aimed at one of four basic types of pollutants, including toxic, flammable, explosive, or disease-causing substances. To determine whether a site requires clean-up, soil and water samples are tested to determine the level of contamination.

Site remediation is often performed on land that has been deemed unlivable by local government bodies or scientific groups. This type of land is known as a brownfield, and clean-up is performed so the land can be developed and used safely. Some remediation projects are performed because the site is a hazard to people in nearby areas. Sites contaminated by nuclear or chemical waste may produce toxic fumes that can travel for miles, or can even leak into groundwater and contaminate local water supplies. Cleaning up the site may not make it safe to live on, but it can help to minimize danger to nearby residents.

In the US, site remediation is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while most of Europe relies on a system known as “Dutch Standards.” The EPA manages a program known as “Superfund” to pay for remediation projects. Funds for this program come from fines levied against companies found guilty of pollution activities. Many US cities also offer tax and zoning incentives for developers willing to take on site remediation projects.

There are two types of techniques used to cleanup a contaminated site. Ex-situ techniques involve removing hazardous substances from the area, while in-situ techniques use chemicals and other agents to treat soil and water without removing it. A common ex-situ method is known as “pump-and-dump,” where soil and water are removed and sent to landfills. The most common in-situ technique is the “pump-and-treat,” where dirty soil or water is brought to the surface and treated with chemicals to counteract hazardous substances. The use of bacteria to remove pollutants, a process known as bio remediation, is also growing in popularity.

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Discussion Comments
By GiraffeEars — On Jun 13, 2011

I recently read a case study about renewable energy projects that take on the environmental remediation of superfund sites in return for free or cheap real estate. The largest cost in many renewable energy projects is the real estate cost. Sometimes this cost is paid in land leases, or sometimes it is the price of actually buying the real estate.

The case study showed how using sites like old mountain top mines, industrial waste sites, and dumps for alternative energy projects helped make the price of generated electricity competitive with coal and nuclear. The alternative energy companies benefit because there is little public opposition to an cleaning up a superfund site.

The energy companies also lower their fixed costs, interest payments on capital costs, and help the environment. If the alternative energy company adequately assesses the cost of remediation, the benefits can be significant. I think if I were an energy developer, I would be examining the 1500 plus superfund sites in my siting studies.

By chicada — On Jun 12, 2011

@comparables- I never realized that plants could be used for site remediation. I am glad that I learned about a new type of soil remediation technique. I wonder if plants can be used to reduce heavy metals in soils, metals like lead.

I live in an old farmhouse that used to have lead paint before the previous owner remodeled the house. I assume that the soil around my home has a higher than normal lead concentration. I have been thinking about getting the soil tested because I will be selling the house once the market rebounds. I would be interested to know what types of plants reduce lead concentrations in soil. If anyone has any insight into this, I would appreciate it.

By Comparables — On Jun 10, 2011

I read a study about phytoremediation as a method of cleaning up radioactive soils. The department of energy owns a number of sites contaminated with radioactive cesium and uranium that are in need of clean up. From what I have been studying, these sites are estimated to cost over $300 billion to restore using the old, energy intensive clean-up methods.

The technique I read about requires mixing soils with ionized ammonia and citrates to increase the solubility of the uranium and cesium as well as increase the uptake ability of the plants. The plants are able to absorb up to 200 times their normal absorption rate of these radioactive materials. The plants draw the uranium out of the soil, rendering the area safe for certain types of development within a matter of years.

Remediation of radioactive sites is labor intensive and costly, but these techniques will help to bring these costs down. This will be important in making nuclear energy and radioactive medicine more environmentally friendly.

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