Mother Nature's Pump and Treat

by Kalle Matso, Asst. Editor; Civil Engineering, 345 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1995, Vol. 65, Issue 10, Pg. 46-49

Document Type: Feature article


Known under the general term of phytoremediation, using vegetation as a remedial agent has existed in its basic form for many years, mostly in applications involving waste-water treatment. Recently, however, scientists began experimenting with phytoremediation as an in-situ clean-up option for contaminated soils, sediments and ground water. After approximately five years of lab and field research, phytoremediation is now a full-fledged, albeit very young, technology with a promising future in the hazardous waste clean-up industry. Having learned from the overly hyped advent of bioremediation, most experts go out of their way to caution against thinking of phytoremediation as a panacea for hazardous waste. Rather, it is seen as an exciting new technique with a specific niche: as a polishing step after the hot spots are dealt with, or as a long-term solution for a more isolated, less contaminated site. You wouldn't want to site a day care center for this, says Scott Cunningham of Dupont, Newark, Del., But for areas that are more remote, this is entirely appropriate. Phytoremediation could represent real savings for the government and other entities with pressing clean-up projects. Although the costs vary from site to site, depending on the contaminant, most experts estimate that phytoremediation is only 20% as costly as conventional excavation, incineration and pump and treat systems. But phytoremediation's greatest advantage could be in how it is being received by the public. It stands to reason that a family living near a munitions dump will be far more inclined to support a mass plantation of trees or a new wetlands area than an excavation and incineration operation. It's incredibly politically correct at the moment to use natural processes to remediate our environmental excesses, says Cunningham. And phytoremediation makes technical sense on top of it.

Subject Headings: Pumps | Incineration | Hazardous wastes | Groundwater pollution | Excavation | Disasters and hazards | Wetlands (fresh water)

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