What is environmental remediation?

In simple terms environmental remediation is the process of removing pollutants, or contaminants, from the environment. This could be from groundwater, surface water soil or sediment. In many instances environmental remediation is required by the environmental body in charge of the specific location or area. When a company contaminates the environment and this is discovered by them or the environmental body, they are required by law to take steps and measures to fix the issue through environmental remediation.

Specialist companies that solely deal with environmental remediation may be brought in to take control of the process. The environmental experts will have the best knowledge, equipment and facilities to remove the contamination in the quickest and easiest way.

Environmental remediation process

There are several basic steps that should be followed as part of the environmental remediation process. We take a look at each step and what it involves.

Step 1 - assessment and sampling

The first step with any contaminated area is to get more detail about how big the issue is and exactly what the contamination involves. Experts use sampling equipment, lab analysis and their knowledge to determine the exact spread of the contaminant and the best way to clear up the pollution.

Step 2 - planning action

At this point the environmental specialists have all of the information they need in order to plan how to fix the contamination to the environment. Specialists consider all options and select the best way to remove the pollutant. There are three main types of environmental remediation: soil remediation, groundwater remediation and sediment remediation. These may be needed in combination to clean up a pollutant or in isolation.

Soil remediation

Soil remediation is the process of removing the contamination from the soil, the upper layer of the earth. Contaminated soil can pose risks for the environment and the population. Direct contact, introduction into the food chain and ingesting are the three main concerns when soil has been contaminated. There are several ways that soil can be cleaned of contamination. These depend on the substance causing the issue. Physical soil washing, biological treatment, thermal treatment or chemical treatment are the key methods used in soil remediation.

Groundwater remediation

Groundwater sits below the unsaturated zone of the ground in aquifers or between rocks. If groundwater becomes contaminated it can impact humans in many ways. Groundwater is often pumped for drinking water, used in agriculture or industrial processes. There are several ways groundwater remediation can be treated. Groundwater pumping, biological treatment or barriers to contain the contaminated groundwater are the three most common remediation techniques.

Sediment remediation

The final type of remediation is sediment remediation. This is the layer of earth and rock that is found at the bottom of rivers and other bodies of water. There are two main ways that sediment can be cleaned of contamination. These fall into in situ and ex situ. In situ refers to cleaning the sediment in its current place by adding chemicals or barriers. Ex situ is the process of removing the sediment from the river or body of water. Techniques include physical, biological and thermal treatments.

Step 3 - remediation of the area

Now that the approach has been chosen the area is ready to be remediated. This will often involve teams of people, permits and specialized equipment. During this stage safety measures will be taken to protect the local population, employees and ensure that no one gets hurt as part of the remediation process.

Step 4 - Evaluation and testing

The final process is to evaluate the results of the remediation process by testing to check if the contamination has been completely removed or contained within the area. Experts may decide additional remediation is needed if the results show that the first process failed to clean up all of the contamination. Experts can also advise the company on ways in which they can avoid issues in the future. Continuous environmental sampling and proactive measures should be taken to avoid any pollutants making their way to the soil, groundwater or sediment.

At QED we offer equipment to help companies comply with each stage of the environmental remediation process. This includes soil sampling and water sampling equipment. Find out more about how QED can help with environmental remediation

Found in:
Environmental and Remediation