Environmental Cleaning - For a safer world
One of the most far-reaching and devastating consequences of the rapid progress of technology is the drastic rise in the levels of pollution we are seeing in various forms and media. One would only need to look at city streets for evidence of mounting trash as proof of solid waste issues; waterways and other bodies of water to see how far pollution has degraded the quality of water, damaged water ecosystems and compromised our future supply of drinking water; and city smog in the morning to realize how much air pollution has taken away precious clean air to breathe.
The struggle to address pollution can only begin with environmental cleaning. The “science” of environmental cleaning pertains to the removal of pollution effects and vectors from various contaminated systems like the soil, water, and air. Without environmental cleaning initiatives, many areas in the world would remain hazardous to humans rendering them inhospitable and inappropriate for the construction of infrastructures designed for human habitation.
Environmental cleaning is based on a set of rules and guidelines that are established to determine the degree of cleaning, or remediation, required. The process begins with a thorough assessment of a target site. This is done following the framework on an Environment Assessment Report – Phase I as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the respective governing agency in the affected territory. The product of this phase is a concrete plan on how to sample and analyze the level of contamination that a site has been subjected to. As an example, soil assessment can be done by drilling up to 2 to 3 meter deep into the ground every 10 meters of a 1 acre land area and then subjecting the soil samples to analysis for usual contaminants such as liquid spills, petroleum products (for flammability), heavy metal concentrations, carcinogens and organic carbon deposits. The same can be done for bodies of water through a water sampling plan and air via ambient air sampling schemes.
After the creation of a sampling plan and analysis proposal, the Environmental Assessment recommendations are sent back to the company or institution responsible for the planned environmental cleaning. These institutions will be personally responsible for the conduct of the assessment with careful supervision by Environmental Agencies. In the case of an oil spill, for example, the erring company shoulders all the cost required to analyze the extent of spill and the gravity of the damage on the environment. The same can be said for a company that wants to construct a subdivision in a specific area where soil and water analysis will have to be completed prior ground breaking.
Once the sampling and analyses are completed, the Environmental Agency responsible for supervising the project reviews the results and draws up recommendations on how to best conduct the environmental cleaning activities, should the results warrant it.
The various methods used in remediation activities can be divided into two types: ex-situ methods which require excavation or dredging and treating the soil in a neighboring site before it is dumped back, and in-situ methods which are done without the need for excavation. The various methods include simple excavation or dredging into a landfill for proper disposal, Surfactant Enhanced Aquifer Remediation (SEAR) which pertains to the addition of hydrocarbon-mitigating agents deep into the soil to facilitate the recovery of contaminating liquids, Pump and Treat methods which required subs-surface water to be extracted and passed through a water treatment system prior to reintroduction, Solidification and stabilization methods, In situ oxidation, and many other alternative and commercial treatment forms.
These methods have advanced the level of complexity and success of environmental cleaning over the years but there remain serious challenges to heavily contaminated sites that require the combination of remediation and rehabilitation to full restore to its original level. The various Environmental Agencies around the world continue to drive up the level of accountability of offending companies as a “pain level” to ensure that greater care is used in the future to prevent events that result to the need for environmental cleaning.
It remains to be seen how environmental cleaning methods can cope up with the sheer demand for safer sites and stricter standards. The best method will have to rely on combining reduce pollution levels and alternative materials to currently hazardous chemicals so there will be a lesser need for remediation. Until science progress to that level, our approach to environmental cleaning will also be a post-mortem effort. The real key to true environmental responsibility is prevention, not cure.