Environmental Quality

Remediation and Restoration

Technical Applications


Remediation technologies render hazardous substances less harmful after they have entered the environment, and restoration technologies renew and renovate ecosystems which have been damaged or changed, especially those which have declined due to anthropogenic effects. Together these technologies seek to redress existing environmental problems, and thus are especially important in the near term, that is, over the next ten to twenty years.


The current state of the art in remediation technology is unlikely to meet fully even basic requirements for remediating difficult contamination problems, much less to meet goals for achieving remediation in a cost effective and timely manner. Early "treatment" methods such as dig-and- store or incineration tend to be high-cost and to carry risks for further contamination. Some recently developed innovative technologies have found growing application. A report by EPA's Technology Innovation Office[1] estimates that soil vapor extraction techniques, first deployed in the early 1980s, now account for 40 percent of innovative applications. Bioremediation techniques account for 21 percent. Other innovative techniques currently being applied include thermal desorption, soil washing, and in-situ flushing. However, more development is still required, especially for nuclear materials, for other less common contaminants, for heterogeneous and often poorly characterized mixtures of contaminants, and for more difficult media.


A varied and comprehensive portfolio of remediation and restoration technologies will be needed to play a critical and rather unique dual role in the U.S. economy. This dual role derives from the dichotomy that, although remediation of sites within the United States will be a significant cost to the U.S. economy, the opportunities to remediate sites outside the United States will represent a large potential export market which may benefit the U.S. economy. Thus development of timely and cost-effective remediation and restoration technologies is critical, not only to reduce costs to the U.S. economy for addressing indigenous contamination problems, but to promote U.S. competitiveness in global remediation markets. These technologies can contribute to job creation and economic growth, both by creating new jobs, and by helping reduce clean-up cost liabilities faced by many manufacturers. They also contribute to the health of the U.S. population by reducing risks associated with contaminants in the environment.


There is general parity between the United States and Europe in bioremediation technology. The United States has conducted more basic research in this area, but Europe has successfully used U.S. technology for relatively large-scale, on-site remediation efforts. A European company was the first to use a fungi to bioremediate 10,000 tons of soil at a wood processing plant. While Japanese firms are capable of being major players in bioremediation technology, they appear to lag slightly in actual demonstration of this capability. Their strength is believed to lie in ex situ bioremediation, where large-scale bioreactor and bioprocessing facilities will be required.