Dumping pump and treat: rapid cleanups using thermal technology Page: 4 of 26
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Underground spills of volatile hydrocarbons are often difficult to clean up, especially if the
contaminants are present in or below the water table as a separate liquid-organic phase.
Excavating and treating the contaminated soil may not be practical or even possible if the
affected zone is relatively deep. Merely pumping groundwater has proven to be ineffective
because huge amounts of water must be flushed through the contaminated area to clean it;
even then the contaminants may not be completely removed. Due to the low solubility of
most common contaminants, such pump and treat systems can be expected to take decades to
centuries to actually clean a site.
Today, many sites are required to pump and treat contaminated groundwater even though
there is no expectation that the site will be cleaned. In these cases, the pumps simply control
the spread of the contaminant, while requiring a continuous flow of money, paperwork, and
management attention. Although pump and treat systems are relatively inexpensive to
operate, they represent along term cost. Most importantly, they rarely remove enough
contaminant to change the property's status. Although a pump and treat system can offer
compliance in a regulatory sense, it doesn't solve the site's liability problem.
Thermal methods promise to solve this dilemma by actually cleaning a property in a short
time period, thus limiting the period of liability. This may involve cleaning a site to closure
during the initial contaminant-removal phase, or removal of the majority of the contaminant
so that natural processes such as bioremediation can return the site to pristine condition over a
period of years, without further owner intervention. Today's regulatory environment
encourages this approach through efforts such as the brownfields initiatives. In either case,
this requires a strong commitment on the part of the site owner. Most if not all the cleanup
occurs within the first year or so, and nearly all the cost. In our experience, the total cleanup
cost is still significantly smaller than with conventional methods. The real benefit is the
cleanup and thus the removal of liability within a realistic time frame.
Why Use Heat?
The rationale behind using heat to speed groundwater cleanup is readily apparent; just as any
of the more familiar cleaning tasks are accomplished more rapidly with hot water, the use of
steam or electrical heating can dramatically increase the rate of soil and groundwater cleanup.
Thermal remediation methods are effective due to a variety of factors; increased contaminant
volatility, rapid mass transfer, diffusion and evaporation, lower viscosity of water and
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Newmark, R.L. & Aines, R.D. Dumping pump and treat: rapid cleanups using thermal technology, article, March 11, 1997; California. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc691700/m1/4/: accessed March 21, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.