In situ remediation could revitalize hazardous waste sites

Mountain Xpress / Max Hunt

Hazardous waste sites are not exactly an endangered species: In Buncombe County alone, there are about 30 of them, relics of former manufacturing operations or other businesses that left behind toxic residues. Some of those companies were established before the 1970s, when pioneering environmental laws began regulating industrial pollution. Others simply ignored the laws governing disposal of dangerous chemicals. Either way, these contaminants are hard to get rid of, and expensive cleanup efforts can drag on for decades with no sure resolution.

The Chemtronics site in Swannanoa, for example, has been on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List since 1982, yet there’s still no end in sight to the cleanup (see “Chemtronics: From Chemical Weapons to Conservation Easement,” March 24, 2016, Xpress).

Meanwhile, over at the CTS site on Mills Gap Road in South Asheville, concerns about the pace and effectiveness of cleanup efforts have mobilized community activists (see “Toxic Legacy: CTS Site Breeds Heartache for Residents,” June 1, 2016, Xpress).

But a group of innovative strategies collectively known as “in situ remediation could dramatically improve the prospects for restoring these and other high-profile Superfund sites more quickly and at lower cost.

Instead of trying to mechanically remove contaminants from a property, in situ remediation harnesses the ability of certain chemicals or bacteria to tackle them where they are and turn them into harmless substances. Later this year, environmental contractors will implement such strategies at both those sites, under the auspices of EPA Region 4 officials. And meanwhile, another local project that’s already underway — RiverLink’s phytoremediation effort at the former Edaco junkyard on Amboy Road — gives some hints of these approaches’ potential to reclaim festering hazardous waste sites.

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