Groundwater remediation

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Groundwater remediation is the process that is used to treat polluted groundwater by removing the pollutants or converting them into harmless products. Groundwater is water present below the ground surface that saturates the pore space in the subsurface. Globally, between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of the world's drinking water is drawn from boreholes and dug wells. [1] Groundwater is also used by farmers to irrigate crops and by industries to produce everyday goods. Most groundwater is clean, but groundwater can become polluted, or contaminated as a result of human activities or as a result of natural conditions.


The many and diverse activities of humans produce innumerable waste materials and by-products. Historically, the disposal of such waste have not been subject to many regulatory controls. Consequently, waste materials have often been disposed of or stored on land surfaces where they percolate into the underlying groundwater. As a result, the contaminated groundwater is unsuitable for use.

Current practices can still impact groundwater, such as the over application of fertilizer or pesticides, spills from industrial operations, infiltration from urban runoff, and leaking from landfills. Using contaminated groundwater causes hazards to public health through poisoning or the spread of disease, and the practice of groundwater remediation has been developed to address these issues. Contaminants found in groundwater cover a broad range of physical, inorganic chemical, organic chemical, bacteriological, and radioactive parameters. Pollutants and contaminants can be removed from groundwater by applying various techniques, thereby bringing the water to a standard that is commensurate with various intended uses.


Ground water remediation techniques span biological, chemical, and physical treatment technologies. Most ground water treatment techniques utilize a combination of technologies. Some of the biological treatment techniques include bioaugmentation, bioventing, biosparging, bioslurping, and phytoremediation. Some chemical treatment techniques include ozone and oxygen gas injection, chemical precipitation, membrane separation, ion exchange, carbon absorption, aqueous chemical oxidation, and surfactant enhanced recovery. Some chemical techniques may be implemented using nanomaterials. Physical treatment techniques include, but are not limited to, pump and treat, air sparging, and dual phase extraction.[ citation needed ]

Biological treatment technologies


If a treatability study shows no degradation (or an extended lab period before significant degradation is achieved) in contamination contained in the groundwater, then inoculation with strains known to be capable of degrading the contaminants may be helpful. This process increases the reactive enzyme concentration within the bioremediation system and subsequently may increase contaminant degradation rates over the nonaugmented rates, at least initially after inoculation. [2]


Bioventing is an on site remediation technology that uses microorganisms to biodegrade organic constituents in the groundwater system. Bioventing enhances the activity of indigenous bacteria and archaea and stimulates the natural in situ biodegradation of hydrocarbons by inducing air or oxygen flow into the unsaturated zone and, if necessary, by adding nutrients. [3] During bioventing, oxygen may be supplied through direct air injection into residual contamination in soil. Bioventing primarily assists in the degradation of adsorbed fuel residuals, but also assists in the degradation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as vapors move slowly through biologically active soil. [4]


Biosparging is an in situ remediation technology that uses indigenous microorganisms to biodegrade organic constituents in the saturated zone. In biosparging, air (or oxygen) and nutrients (if needed) are injected into the saturated zone to increase the biological activity of the indigenous microorganisms. Biosparging can be used to reduce concentrations of petroleum constituents that are dissolved in groundwater, adsorbed to soil below the water table, and within the capillary fringe.[ citation needed ]


Bioslurping combines elements of bioventing and vacuum-enhanced pumping of free-product that is lighter than water (light non-aqueous phase liquid or LNAPL) to recover free-product from the groundwater and soil, and to bioremediate soils. The bioslurper system uses a “slurp” tube that extends into the free-product layer. Much like a straw in a glass draws liquid, the pump draws liquid (including free-product) and soil gas up the tube in the same process stream. Pumping lifts LNAPLs, such as oil, off the top of the water table and from the capillary fringe (i.e., an area just above the saturated zone, where water is held in place by capillary forces). The LNAPL is brought to the surface, where it is separated from water and air. The biological processes in the term “bioslurping” refer to aerobic biological degradation of the hydrocarbons when air is introduced into the unsaturated zone contaminated soil. [5]


In the phytoremediation process certain plants and trees are planted, whose roots absorb contaminants from ground water over time. This process can be carried out in areas where the roots can tap the ground water. Few examples of plants that are used in this process are Chinese Ladder fern Pteris vittata, also known as the brake fern, is a highly efficient accumulator of arsenic. Genetically altered cottonwood trees are good absorbers of mercury and transgenic Indian mustard plants soak up selenium well. [6]

Permeable reactive barriers

Certain types of permeable reactive barriers utilize biological organisms in order to remediate groundwater.[ citation needed ]

Chemical treatment technologies

Chemical precipitation

Chemical precipitation is commonly used in wastewater treatment to remove hardness and heavy metals. In general, the process involves addition of agent to an aqueous waste stream in a stirred reaction vessel, either batchwise or with steady flow. Most metals can be converted to insoluble compounds by chemical reactions between the agent and the dissolved metal ions. The insoluble compounds (precipitates) are removed by settling and/or filtering.[ citation needed ]

Ion exchange

Ion exchange for ground water remediation is virtually always carried out by passing the water downward under pressure through a fixed bed of granular medium (either cation exchange media and anion exchange media) or spherical beads. Cations are displaced by certain cations from the solutions and ions are displaced by certain anions from the solution. Ion exchange media most often used for remediation are zeolites (both natural and synthetic) and synthetic resins. [2]

Carbon adsorption

The most common activated carbon used for remediation is derived from bituminous coal. Activated carbon adsorbs volatile organic compounds from ground water; the compounds attach to the graphite-like surface of the activated carbon.[ citation needed ]

Chemical oxidation

In this process, called In Situ Chemical Oxidation or ISCO, chemical oxidants are delivered in the subsurface to destroy (converted to water and carbon dioxide or to nontoxic substances) the organics molecules. The oxidants are introduced as either liquids or gasses. Oxidants include air or oxygen, ozone, and certain liquid chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, permanganate and persulfate. Ozone and oxygen gas can be generated on site from air and electricity and directly injected into soil and groundwater contamination. The process has the potential to oxidize and/or enhance naturally occurring aerobic degradation. Chemical oxidation has proven to be an effective technique for dense non-aqueous phase liquid or DNAPL when it is present.[ citation needed ]

Surfactant enhanced recovery

Surfactant enhanced recovery increases the mobility and solubility of the contaminants absorbed to the saturated soil matrix or present as dense non-aqueous phase liquid. Surfactant-enhanced recovery injects surfactants (surface-active agents that are primary ingredient in soap and detergent) into contaminated groundwater. A typical system uses an extraction pump to remove groundwater downstream from the injection point. The extracted groundwater is treated aboveground to separate the injected surfactants from the contaminants and groundwater. Once the surfactants have separated from the groundwater they are re-used. The surfactants used are non-toxic, food-grade, and biodegradable. Surfactant enhanced recovery is used most often when the groundwater is contaminated by dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs). These dense compounds, such as trichloroethylene (TCE), sink in groundwater because they have a higher density than water. They then act as a continuous source for contaminant plumes that can stretch for miles within an aquifer. These compounds may biodegrade very slowly. They are commonly found in the vicinity of the original spill or leak where capillary forces have trapped them. [7]

Permeable reactive barriers

Some permeable reactive barriers utilize chemical processes to achieve groundwater remediation.[ citation needed ]

Physical treatment technologies

Pump and treat

Pump and treat is one of the most widely used ground water remediation technologies. In this process ground water is pumped to the surface and is coupled with either biological or chemical treatments to remove the impurities.[ citation needed ]

Air sparging

Air sparging is the process of blowing air directly into the ground water. As the bubbles rise, the contaminants are removed from the groundwater by physical contact with the air (i.e., stripping) and are carried up into the unsaturated zone (i.e., soil). As the contaminants move into the soil, a soil vapor extraction system is usually used to remove vapors. [8]

Dual phase vacuum extraction

Dual-phase vacuum extraction (DPVE), also known as multi-phase extraction, is a technology that uses a high-vacuum system to remove both contaminated groundwater and soil vapor. In DPVE systems, a high-vacuum extraction well is installed with its screened section in the zone of contaminated soils and groundwater. Fluid/vapor extraction systems depress the water table and water flows faster to the extraction well. DPVE removes contaminants from above and below the water table. As the water table around the well is lowered from pumping, unsaturated soil is exposed. This area, called the capillary fringe, is often highly contaminated, as it holds undissolved chemicals, chemicals that are lighter than water, and vapors that have escaped from the dissolved groundwater below. Contaminants in the newly exposed zone can be removed by vapor extraction. Once above ground, the extracted vapors and liquid-phase organics and groundwater are separated and treated. Use of dual-phase vacuum extraction with these technologies can shorten the cleanup time at a site, because the capillary fringe is often the most contaminated area. [9]

Monitoring-well oil skimming

Monitoring-wells are often drilled for the purpose of collecting ground water samples for analysis. These wells, which are usually six inches or less in diameter, can also be used to remove hydrocarbons from the contaminant plume within a groundwater aquifer by using a belt-style oil skimmer. Belt oil skimmers, which are simple in design, are commonly used to remove oil and other floating hydrocarbon contaminants from industrial water systems.[ citation needed ]

A monitoring-well oil skimmer remediates various oils, ranging from light fuel oils such as petrol, light diesel or kerosene to heavy products such as No. 6 oil, creosote and coal tar. It consists of a continuously moving belt that runs on a pulley system driven by an electric motor. The belt material has a strong affinity for hydrocarbon liquids and for shedding water. The belt, which can have a vertical drop of 100+ feet, is lowered into the monitoring well past the LNAPL/water interface. As the belt moves through this interface, it picks up liquid hydrocarbon contaminant which is removed and collected at ground level as the belt passes through a wiper mechanism. To the extent that DNAPL hydrocarbons settle at the bottom of a monitoring well, and the lower pulley of the belt skimmer reaches them, these contaminants can also be removed by a monitoring-well oil skimmer.[ citation needed ]

Typically, belt skimmers remove very little water with the contaminant, so simple weir-type separators can be used to collect any remaining hydrocarbon liquid, which often makes the water suitable for its return to the aquifer. Because the small electric motor uses little electricity, it can be powered from solar panels or a wind turbine, making the system self-sufficient and eliminating the cost of running electricity to a remote location. [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

Environmental remediation Removal of pollution from soil, groundwater etc.

Environmental remediation deals with the removal of pollution or contaminants from environmental media such as soil, groundwater, sediment, or surface water. Remedial action is generally subject to an array of regulatory requirements, and may also be based on assessments of human health and ecological risks where no legislative standards exist, or where standards are advisory.

Bioremediation Process used to treat contaminated media such as water and soil

Bioremediation broadly refers to any process wherein a biological system, living or dead, is employed for removing environmental pollutants from air, water, soil, flue gasses, industrial effluents etc, in natural or artificial settings. The natural ability of organisms to adsorb, accumulate, and degrade common and emerging pollutants has attracted the use of biological resources in treatment of contaminated environment. In comparison to conventional physiochemical treatment methods which suffer serious drawbacks, bioremediation is sustainable, eco-friendly, cheap, and scalable. Most bioremediation is inadvertent, involving native organisms. Research on bioremediation is heavily focused on stimulating the process by inoculation of a polluted site with organisms or supplying nutrients to promote the growth. In principle, bioremediation could be used to reduce the impact of byproducts created from anthropogenic activities, such as industrialization and agricultural processes. Bioremediation could prove less expensive and more sustainable than other remediation alternatives.

Phytoremediation Decontamination technique using living plants

Phytoremediation technologies use living plants to clean up soil, air, and water contaminated with hazardous contaminants. It is defined as "the use of green plants and the associated microorganisms, along with proper soil amendments and agronomic techniques to either contain, remove or render toxic environmental contaminants harmless". The term is an amalgam of the Greek phyto (plant) and Latin remedium. Although attractive for its cost, phytoremediation has not been demonstrated to redress any significant environmental challenge to the extent that contaminated space has been reclaimed.

Biological augmentation is the addition of archaea or bacterial cultures required to speed up the rate of degradation of a contaminant. Organisms that originate from contaminated areas may already be able to break down waste, but perhaps inefficiently and slowly.

Soil contamination Pollution of land by human-made chemicals or other alteration

Soil contamination, soil pollution, or land pollution as a part of land degradation is caused by the presence of xenobiotic (human-made) chemicals or other alteration in the natural soil environment. It is typically caused by industrial activity, agricultural chemicals or improper disposal of waste. The most common chemicals involved are petroleum hydrocarbons, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, solvents, pesticides, lead, and other heavy metals. Contamination is correlated with the degree of industrialization and intensity of chemical substance. The concern over soil contamination stems primarily from health risks, from direct contact with the contaminated soil, vapour from the contaminants, or from secondary contamination of water supplies within and underlying the soil. Mapping of contaminated soil sites and the resulting cleanups are time-consuming and expensive tasks, and require expertise in geology, hydrology, chemistry, computer modeling, and GIS in Environmental Contamination, as well as an appreciation of the history of industrial chemistry.

An oil skimmer is a device that is designed to remove oil floating on a liquid surface from oil spills. The effectiveness of a skimmer is highly dependent on the roughness of the surrounding water that it is working on, the more choppy the surrounding wake and water the more water the oil skimmer will take in rather than just oil. Skimmers are either self propelled, used from shore or operated from vessels depending on the oil spill scenario. Depending on these specific designs they are used for a variety of applications other than oil spills such as a part of oily water treatment systems, removing oil from machine tool coolant and aqueous parts washers, and collecting fats oils and greases in wastewater treatment in food manufacturing industries.

Soil vapor extraction (SVE) is a physical treatment process for in situ remediation of volatile contaminants in vadose zone (unsaturated) soils. SVE is based on mass transfer of contaminant from the solid (sorbed) and liquid phases into the gas phase, with subsequent collection of the gas phase contamination at extraction wells. Extracted contaminant mass in the gas phase is treated in aboveground systems. In essence, SVE is the vadose zone equivalent of the pump-and-treat technology for groundwater remediation. SVE is particularly amenable to contaminants with higher Henry’s Law constants, including various chlorinated solvents and hydrocarbons. SVE is a well-demonstrated, mature remediation technology and has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as presumptive remedy.


Rhizofiltration is a form of phytoremediation that involves filtering contaminated groundwater, surface water and wastewater through a mass of roots to remove toxic substances or excess nutrients.

Electrical resistance heating Environmental cleanup method

Electrical resistance heating (ERH) is an intensive in situ environmental remediation method that uses the flow of alternating current electricity to heat soil and groundwater and evaporate contaminants. Electric current is passed through a targeted soil volume between subsurface electrode elements. The resistance to electrical flow that exists in the soil causes the formation of heat; resulting in an increase in temperature until the boiling point of water at depth is reached. After reaching this temperature, further energy input causes a phase change, forming steam and removing volatile contaminants. ERH is typically more cost effective when used for treating contaminant source areas.

A light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) is a groundwater contaminant that is not soluble in water and has lower density than water, in contrast to a DNAPL which has higher density than water. Once a LNAPL infiltrates the ground, it will stop at the height of the water table because the LNAPL is less dense than water. Efforts to locate and remove LNAPLs is relatively less expensive and easier than for DNAPLs because LNAPLs float on top of the water in the underground water table.

Electro Thermal Dynamic Stripping Process

Electro Thermal Dynamic Stripping Process (ET-DSP) is a patented in situ thermal environmental remediation technology, created by McMillan-McGee Corporation, for cleaning contaminated sites. ET-DSP uses readily available three phase electric power to heat the subsurface with electrodes. Electrodes are placed at various depths and locations in the formation. Electric current to each electrode is controlled continuously by computer to uniformly heat the target contamination zone.

In situ chemical oxidation (ISCO), a form of advanced oxidation process, is an environmental remediation technique used for soil and/or groundwater remediation to lower the concentrations of targeted environmental contaminants to acceptable levels. ISCO is accomplished by introducing strong chemical oxidizers into the contaminated medium to destroy chemical contaminants in place. It can be used to remediate a variety of organic compounds, including some that are resistant to natural degradation. The in situ in ISCO is just Latin for "in place", signifying that ISCO is a chemical oxidation reaction that occurs at the site of the contamination.

A permeable reactive barrier (PRB), also referred to as a permeable reactive treatment zone (PRTZ), is a developing technology that has been recognized as being a cost-effective technology for in situ groundwater remediation. PRBs are barriers which allow some—but not all—materials to pass through. One definition for PRBs is an in situ treatment zone that passively captures a plume of contaminants and removes or breaks down the contaminants, releasing uncontaminated water. The primary removal methods include: (1) sorption and precipitation, (2) chemical reaction, and (3) reactions involving biological mechanisms.

In situ chemical reduction (ISCR) is a new type of environmental remediation technique used for soil and/or groundwater remediation to reduce the concentrations of targeted environmental contaminants to acceptable levels. It is the mirror process of In Situ Chemical Oxidation (ISCO). ISCR is usually applied in the environment by injecting chemically reductive additives in liquid form into the contaminated area or placing a solid medium of chemical reductants in the path of a contaminant plume. It can be used to remediate a variety of organic compounds, including some that are resistant to natural degradation.

1,2,3-Trichloropropane Chemical compound

1,2,3-Trichloropropane (TCP) is an organic compound with the formula CHCl(CH2Cl)2. It is a colorless liquid that is used as a solvent and in other specialty applications.

Koppers Co., Inc. (KCI) Superfund Site

The Koppers Co., Inc. (KCI) Superfund Site is one of three Superfund sites in Oroville, California, along with Louisiana Pacific Sawmill and Western Pacific Railyard. The KCI Superfund Site is a 200-acre site which served as a wood treatment plant for 50 years. Wood was treated with many chemicals to prevent wood deterioration. The accumulation of these chemicals from spills, fires, and uses has caused this site to be contaminated with the hazardous waste material. Due to soil and groundwater contamination, the site was placed on the National Priorities List in 1984 for remedial action plans to clean up the site to protect surrounding residential areas concerning environmental and human health risks.

Air sparging, also known as in situ air stripping and in situ volatilization is an in situ remediation technique, used for the treatment of saturated soils and groundwater contaminated by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like petroleum hydrocarbons which is a widespread problem for the ground water and soil health. The vapor extraction has manifested itself into becoming very successful and practical when it comes to disposing of VOCs. It was used as a new development when it came to saturated zone remediation when using air sparging. Being that the act of it was to inject a hydrocarbon-free gaseous medium into the ground where contamination was found. When it comes to situ air sparging it became an intricate phase process that was proven to be successful in Europe since the 1980s. Currently, there have been further development into bettering the engineering design and process of air sparging.

Nanoremediation is the use of nanoparticles for environmental remediation. It is being explored to treat ground water, wastewater, soil, sediment, or other contaminated environmental materials. Nanoremediation is an emerging industry; by 2009, nanoremediation technologies had been documented in at least 44 cleanup sites around the world, predominantly in the United States. In Europe, nanoremediation is being investigated by the EC funded NanoRem Project. A report produced by the NanoRem consortium has identified around 70 nanoremediation projects worldwide at pilot or full scale. During nanoremediation, a nanoparticle agent must be brought into contact with the target contaminant under conditions that allow a detoxifying or immobilizing reaction. This process typically involves a pump-and-treat process or in situ application.

Groundwater pollution Pollution that occurs when pollutants are released to the ground and seep down into groundwater

Groundwater pollution occurs when pollutants are released to the ground and make their way into groundwater. This type of water pollution can also occur naturally due to the presence of a minor and unwanted constituent, contaminant, or impurity in the groundwater, in which case it is more likely referred to as contamination rather than pollution. Groundwater pollution can occur from on-site sanitation systems, landfill leachate, effluent from wastewater treatment plants, leaking sewers, petrol filling stations, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or from over application of fertilizers in agriculture. Pollution can also occur from naturally occurring contaminants, such as arsenic or fluoride. Using polluted groundwater causes hazards to public health through poisoning or the spread of disease.

<i>In situ</i> bioremediation

Bioremediation is the process of decontaminating polluted sites through the usage of either endogenous or external microorganism. In situ is a term utilized within a variety of fields meaning "on site" and refers to the location of an event. Within the context of bioremediation, in situ indicates that the location of the bioremediation has occurred at the site of contamination without the translocation of the polluted materials. Bioremediation is used to neutralize pollutants including Hydrocarbons, chlorinated compounds, nitrates, toxic metals and other pollutants through a variety of chemical mechanisms. Microorganism used in the process of bioremediation can either be implanted or cultivated within the site through the application of fertilizers and other nutrients. Common polluted sites targeted by bioremediation are groundwater/aquifers and polluted soils. Aquatic ecosystems affected by oil spills have also shown improvement through the application of bioremediation. The most notable cases being the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Two variations of bioremediation exist defined by the location where the process occurs. Ex situ bioremediation occurs at a location separate from the contaminated site and involves the translocation of the contaminated material. In situ occurs within the site of contamination In situ bioremediation can further be categorized by the metabolism occurring, aerobic and anaerobic, and by the level of human involvement.


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