Water Remediation

Groundwater remediation is the process that is used to remove pollution from groundwater. Groundwater is water present below the ground surface that saturates the pore space in the subsurface. At least one half of the population of the United States depends upon groundwater as a source of drinking water.[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; before the 1980s, the regulation of these wastes was less stringent and waste materials were often disposed of or stored on land surfaces where they percolated into the underlying soil and eventually were carried downward, contaminating the underlying groundwater and therefore jeopardizing the natural quality of it. As a result, contaminated groundwater became 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 ground water 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 ground water cover a broad range of physical, inorganic chemical, organic chemical, bacteriological, and radioactive parameters. Pollutants and contaminants can be removed from ground water by applying various techniques thereby making it safe for use.


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. Physical treatment techniques include, but not limited to, pump and treat, air sparging, and dual phase extraction.

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 in situ remediation technology that uses microorganisms to biodegrade organic constituents adsorbed in the groundwater. Bioventing enhances the activity of indigenous bacteria and simulates the natural in situ biodegradation of hydrocarbons by inducing air or oxygen flow into the unsaturated zone and, if necessary, by adding nutrients. 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.[3]


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.


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.[4]


In the phytoremediation process certain plants and trees are planted, whose roots absorb contaminants from ground water over time, and are harvested and destroyed. 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.[5]

Permeable Reactive Barriers

Certain types of permeable reactive barriers utilize biological organisms in order to remediate groundwater.

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.

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 absorption

The most common activated carbon used for remediation is derived from bituminous coal. Activated carbon absorbs volatile organic compounds from ground water by chemically binding them to the carbon atoms.

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 techique for dense non-aqueous phase liquid or DNAPL when it is present.

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.[6]

Permeable reactive barriers

Some permeable reactive barriers utilize chemical processes to achieve groundwater remediation.

One particular type of permeable reactive barrier utilizes a swellable, organically modified silica embedded in iron, which is injected in situ in order to create a permanent soft barrier in the ground. Water filters through the barrier, and the silica material absorbs toxins, such as TCE. The iron dechlorinates the solvents in the groundwater, often reducing toxicity levels below detectable limits with no toxic daughter products, no solid waste removal, and no air pollution. This type of permeable reactive barrier is also more dispersed than others.[7][8]

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.

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.[9]

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.[10]

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 fewer 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.

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.

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.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Miller, W. D. (1980). Waste Disposal Effects on Groundwater: A Comprehensive Survey of the Occurrence and Control of Ground-Water Contamination Resulting from Waste Disposal Particles. Berkeley, California: Premier Press.
  2. ^ a b Hayman, M, & Dupont, R. R. (2001). Groundwater and Soil Remediation: Process Design and Cost Estimating of Proven Technologies. Reston, Virginia: ASCE Press.
  3. ^ “Bioventing”, The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO). Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  4. ^ “Bioslurping”, The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO). Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  5. ^ Stewart, Robert. “Groundwater Remediation”, 2008-12-23. Retrieved on 2009-11-29.
  6. ^ “Surfactant Enhanced Recovery”, The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO). Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  7. ^ http://www.e4s.org/Who%20We%20Are/Champions%20of%20Sustainability/Deanna%20Pickett%20-%20ABSMaterials,%20Inc.
  8. ^ http://www.absmaterials.com/in-situ
  9. ^ “Air Sparging”, The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO). Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  10. ^ “Dual Phase Extraction”, The Center for Public Environmental Oversight (CPEO). Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  11. ^ “The Alternative To Pump And Treat” Bob Thibodeau, Water Online Magazine, December 27, 2006.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Groundwater Remediation, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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