Vaporizing VOCs

by Neil J. Hutzler, (M.ASCE), Assoc. Prof. of Civ. and Envir. Engrg.; Michigan Technological Univ., Houghton, MI,
John S. Gjerke, (A.M.ASCE),
Blaine E. Murphy, (A.M.ASCE), Envir. Engr.; Bechtel, Inc., Houston, TX,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1990, Vol. 60, Issue 4, Pg. 57-60

Document Type: Feature article


The authors summarize the findings of a study for the Environmental Protection Agency on vapor extraction of volatile organic compounds from soils. The potential for ground water contamination is very great when soils contain VOCs. Even after discharges stop, the unsaturated zone above an aquifer retains a portion or all of the chemical discharge and this diffuses through air-filled pores. Vapor extraction is a cost-effective way to remove VOCs and is becoming widely used. Fresh air is injected into the subsurface at a spill site and vapor-laden air is withdrawn by vacuum from recovery vents. The method is more practical than excavation when there is a large quantity of soil to be treated. All the factors that affect the efficient operation of a vapor-extraction system are described and the authors give recommendations for the optimum use of the method. One problem is finding out when to stop. Soil vapor measurements in conjunction with soil boring and ground water monitoring is the best way to determine when the soil is clean enough to cease operation.

Subject Headings: Volatile organic compounds

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