Back to All

The Sustainability Aspects of Hazardous Waste Remediation

April 12, 2022

Sustainability refers to what’s necessary for balancing the goals of environmental stewardship against the stark realities of producing the things that prevent life from being what Hobbes would call “…poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” More prosaically, the EPA defines it as “meeting today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” 

This requires an equilibrium among three constituents:

  • Environment—the natural world, including animals, plants, minerals, soil, water, and air 
  • The economy—the sum of activities that provide products and services to people, such as manufacturing, agriculture, mining, etc.
  • And society—people, their actions, and their quality of life 

Achieving this equilibrium can be discussed relative to the present or the future: i.e. what we’re doing or what we intend to do. But herein we’re concerned with the past: how we can undo any damage that we’ve inadvertently caused to the environment while producing the widgets and whatnot that have added more than 40 years to our preindustrial lifespan.

What is hazardous waste remediation?

Hazardous waste remediation per the EPA involves the removal of pollutants or contaminants from “environmental media,” or what most people call “soil,” “sediment,” or “water.” Such pollutants or contaminants might be organic, inorganic, or radioactive. They might be liquid, gasses, vapors, or solids.

Whether you’ve determined on your own that you’ve got a site that needs such hazardous waste disposal; or it’s decided for you by some local, state, or federal authority, the onus is on you to get the job done—legally.

As you might guess, waste remediation is subject to a basket of specific regulations. However, in cases where applicable laws are either nonexistent or advisory, your situation might instigate ad hoc requirements based on presumed risks, previously unconsidered.

Can the need for waste remediation happen to you?

Definitely. And in at least three different ways:

First, as we often counsel, too much of anything can be a hazardous waste if it accidentally gets dumped somewhere it shouldn’t—like your facility’s parking lot. (Our favorite example is milk, as a slick of milkfat can devastate soil and groundwater just as assuredly as one of 10W-40.) 

Second,  there’s the unfortunate circumstance wherein someone’s been disposing of something onsite for years—and then comes to learn that the EPA (or a state or local authority) has recently listed it as needing hazardous waste disposal. Not surprisingly, California provides a rich example:

Back in 2007, that state passed a statewide chemistry policy that exceeds the scope of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). And local governments (e.g. San Francisco) tightened controls even more so.

Third, there’s the common situation where a known pollutant has been collected somewhere but now needs to be removed, usually because the site owner wants to use the property for something else.

Abandoned gas stations are a prime example, where leaky storage tanks have let gasoline leach into the soil. So are defunct shooting ranges, where spent lead has accumulated into earthen ammo backstops. And then there are those erstwhile dry-cleaning emporiums, which used tetrachloroethylene, a Group 2A carcinogen.

How complicated can this be? 

Very. You just can’t go out with a shovel & wheelbarrow and start digging up contaminants. 

Your site needs to be assessed to determine exactly what kind of pollution you’re dealing with. This involves soil sampling, chemical analysis, and other hard science.

As to the actual cleanup, there are two general classes of technology. 

  • Ex-situ methods involve extracting the contaminated soil and groundwater and then hauling the muck offsite to an appropriate treatment facility. As you’re legally responsible for all hazardous waste from waste cradle-to-grave, you’ll want to make sure that the company you hire is also up-to-snuff on DOT hazmat transportation requirements.
  • In-situ methods treat the soil and groundwater without removal. They involve such technologies as “soil vapor or stem-enhanced extraction,” “chemical oxidation,” “bioremediation-phytoremediation,” “steam-enhanced extraction,” “thermal desorption,” and other chem-lab esoterica.

Get expert consultation

Protecting the environment is important to public health. But so are the manufactured goods that make our quality of life possible. Sustainability involves the concerted efforts necessary to balance the two. Hazardous waste remediation, you might say, is the art & science to achieve that goal.

If your site needs waste remediation, you must comply with all applicable rules, regulations, mandates, and unspoken expectations. You need a hazardous waste management company that’s expert in—and specifically licensed for—environmental remediation.

  • For ex-situ methods, look for documented experience hauling and/or disposing of contaminated soil and groundwater. 
  • For in-situ approaches, look for a documented history of sound scientific practice. 

In either case, contact us to get expert advice or call 888.681.8923.

And thank you for reading our blog!

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.