A Revolutionary Toxic Waste Cleanup Technology
Steaming Out Pollution



Cutting edge


In its first nine months, the new cleanup technology removed an amount of contaminant that would have taken 1,000 years using traditional methods.

Web Link
Lawrence Livermore Labs


By Jack Smith
Cleaning up toxic waste costs taxpayers millions every year and, at some Superfund sites, will take 100 years—or even more. But now there’s a breakthrough technology—called “dynamic underground stripping”—invented by the Lawrence Livermore National Labs and UC Berkeley with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. 
     Not only will the technique save millions of dollars, it could help eliminate one of the industrial age’s worst problems in just a few years, instead of a few centuries. 
     Southern California Edison is giving the technique a full-scale try on a contamination site in California’s Central Valley. Creosote and “penta” (pentachlorophenol), dissolved in diesel fuel, were used here by the telephone company as a preservative for its telephone poles, making this site one of the most polluted in the country. Pollutants like these wood preservatives are denser than water, and sink though the soil down through the water table, making their retrieval exceedingly difficult. 
     Projections indicate that the Edison site will be complete in 2 years. In just its first nine months, the new cleanup technology removed or neutralized 270 tons of these contaminants—an amount that would have taken 1,000 years using traditional pump-and-treat methods. 

Just Like Surgery
Guided by the same sort of magnetic imaging used in medicine, engineers first heat water in giant boilers, then, driving pipes 100 feet underground, literally surround the pollution, soften it with super-hot steam and force it to the surface. The imaging technology, called electrical resistance tomography, allows specialists to pinpoint the exact location and temperature of the contaminants and monitor the heating process in real time. 
     “We’re bringing the steam, the groundwater and the contaminants to the center, and then we have a network of wells that extract it all out of the ground,” says Randy Weidner, a geologist at Edison. 
     The technique is especially efficient because the heat and forced air often breaks down the contaminants in place—turning them into harmless compounds without having to extract and treat them at the surface. 
     If the cleanup is finished in 2 years, it will save $55 million. And if the technology works here, it could be applied to thousands of other highly polluted sites. 
     “If you go to a site where, potentially, they were going to be pumping and treating for 80 more years, and southern California Edison and the regulators can bring this site to closure within a couple of years, and get it off their books—that is revolutionary!” says Jay Davis of Lawrence Livermore Labs. 
     “Revolutionary” is not a term most scientists use lightly, but it does seem to be the buzzword for this new technology. What it promises in the area of toxic waste cleanup is an environmental dream. “I’m thrilled,” says Craig Eaker, Senior Environmental Engineer at Edison. “I’m absolutely thrilled.” 

Search for more on:
Copyright ©1998 ABCNEWS and Starwave Corporation. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in any form.