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What is environmental remediation and how does it work?

Environmental Remediation: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Various types of work across a range of industries can sometimes involve potentially contaminating or polluting the environment with hazardous materials. Organizations responsible for these incidents are required by law to address the contamination. However, they’re typically not qualified to do so alone. They instead coordinate with environmental remediation specialists.

What is environmental remediation? What does the process involve? The following guide will explain the basics, helping you better understand this essential topic.

 

What Is Environmental Remediation?

Simply put, environmental remediation involves the removal of contaminants from soil, surface water, groundwater, sediment, etc. If there is a risk of environmental damage or the health of humans, environmental remediation is used to reclaim the contaminated area. 

The Environmental Remediation Process

environmental remediation process

The Environmental Protection Agency establishes the key standards that most often apply when environmental remediation is necessary. That said, it’s worth noting that in some areas, additional legislative standards may apply. This is a key reason it’s important for companies to work with environmental remediation experts after their work contaminates the environment in some capacity. Environmental remediation specialists will be familiar with all the applicable regulations and standards.

Although every case is unique, an environmental remediation company usually follows these key steps after being contacted:
 

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment involves (as the name implies) assessing the condition of the area suspected to be contaminated. Depending on the nature of the incident that triggered the Phase I, this will likely include sampling such materials as soil and groundwater to more clearly determine the nature and extent of the contamination.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that environmental remediation and Phase I’s don’t necessarily need to always occur immediately after an incident. There are also cases when a company may enlist the help of environmental remediation specialists to learn about the history of a site before beginning work. For instance, if a wireless carrier wants to construct a new cell tower on a given property, they would want to conduct a Phase I first to ensure their work won’t put the environment or the construction team at risk. 
 

Evaluation & Remediation

The Phase I will typically provide the remediation team with an overview of the contamination at a given site. In some instances, a Phase II is necessary if the Phase I wasn’t sufficient to provide all the necessary information.

This information will guide the environmental remediation specialists’ decision-making when choosing how to go about actually addressing the contamination. Different types of contamination require different processes and technologies to remediate. Environmental remediation teams will also usually account for applicable standards and regulations when deciding which technologies to use. They will also use the information from the original assessment to identify the necessary safety measures they must take to protect all workers involved in the actual remediation.

A basic guide couldn’t possibly cover all the various types of remediation that may be necessary when the environment is contaminated. The following are just a few common examples:

 

  • Excavation: If hazardous material is found in the soil, remediation may involve excavating the affected areas and safely disposing of the affected soil.
  • Dredging: Sometimes, contamination affects rivers or similar bodies of water. In these instances, an environmental remediation team may dredge the river-bottom to collect the affected silt clay and similar materials.
  • Thermal desorption: Sometimes, basic excavation doesn’t allow a remediation team to thoroughly collect the harmful contaminants. They may use thermal desorption technology in these instances. This involves using a tool that separates contaminants from the soil. This makes the process of collecting and removing them much easier.
  • Pump and treat: The pump and treat method is used when groundwater has been contaminated. Environmental remediation specialists pump the affected groundwater so that they may carefully filter it, removing all contaminants.
  • Nanoremediation: Some types of hazardous materials can be very difficult to properly remediate through some of the methods described above. An environmental remediation team might choose nanoremediation as the appropriate method when this is the case. With nanoremediation technology, they can use extremely small reactive agents to essentially degrade/destroy the contaminants. Currently, this process is most often used in groundwater remediation, although there is ongoing work to determine if it could also be effective in soil remediation.

 

Again, those are merely some noteworthy examples. Environmental remediation teams may leverage numerous other processes and tools, depending on the nature of the pollution. They will also usually work closely with the community to ensure all relevant community leaders understand the nature of the remediation. Because environmental remediation naturally involves the handling of contaminants, it’s often necessary to take steps ensuring no community members are exposed to them during the process. The next point describes this in greater detail:

 

Community Safety Efforts

Some remediation projects require a degree of rezoning to occur. This prevents members of the nearby community from being harmed during the process. 

As you may suspect, negotiating with the community to properly rezone the affected area can sometimes be challenging. Citizens are often (perhaps understandably) resistant to the rezoning if it impacts their daily life in a substantial way. A simple example would be a rezoning for environmental remediation causing traffic problems because citizens can no longer use certain roads during the remediation.

This is yet another reason environmental remediation specialists must be involved in addressing contamination from the start. Their knowledge helps them more effectively communicate to all major community leaders and members why a degree of rezoning may be necessary. Of course, their understanding of these issues also helps them to more accurately determine precisely what type of rezoning may be required. Failure to protect those living nearby the affected area would otherwise result in greater legal consequences.

 

Final Assessment

The environmental remediation process will typically end with another basic assessment of the contaminated site. The team needs to confirm that their efforts were successful. If they still find evidence of remaining contamination, they will need to perform additional remediation.

While this is a basic guide answering the question “What is environmental remediation?”, it should help you more thoroughly understand why it’s important that experts handle the process, as it requires special skills and knowledge. If you ever need environmental remediation services, we at AOTC, in Cocoa, Florida, can provide them. Call us at 321-445-9845 for more information.