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Blog (7) Pollution of Groundwater

 About half the population in the United States relies to some extent on groundwater as a source of drinking water, and still more use it to supply their factories with process water or their farms with irrigation water. However, if all water uses such as irrigation and power production are included, only about 25 percent of the water used nationally is derived from groundwater. Still, for those who rely on it, it is critical that their groundwater be unpolluted and relatively free of undesirable contaminants.

Types of Groundwater Contamination: Natural Substances, Petroleum-based Fuels, Chlorinated Solvents.

Cleaning Up Contaminated Groundwater: Groundwater typically becomes polluted when rainfall soaks into the ground, comes in contact with buried waste or other sources of contamination, picks up chemicals, and carries them into groundwater. Sometimes the volume of a spill or leak is large enough that the chemical itself can reach groundwater without the help of infiltrating water.

Cleanup Laws: The two major federal laws that focus on remediating groundwater contamination include the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. RCRA regulates storage, transportation, treatment, and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes, and emphasizes prevention of releases through management standards in addition to other waste management activities. CERCLA regulates the cleanup of abandoned waste sites or operating facilities that have contaminated soil or groundwater. CERCLA was amended in 1986 to include provisions authorizing citizens to sue violators of the law.

The Cleanup Process: Several steps normally are taken to clean up a site once contamination has been discovered. Initially a remedial investigation is conducted to determine the nature and extent of the contamination. In the risk assessment phase, scientists evaluate if site contaminants might harm human health or the environment. If the risks are high, then all the various ways the site might be cleaned up are evaluated during the feasibility study. The record of decision is a public document that explains which of the alternatives presented in the feasibility study will be used to clean up a site.
Abandoning the use of the aquifer and finding an alternative source of water.

Usually, the most protective, lowest cost, and most feasible cleanup alternative is chosen as the preferred cleanup method. The selected cleanup method is designed and constructed during the remedial design/remedial action phase. The operations and maintenance phase then follows. Periodically the remedial action is evaluated to see if it is meeting expectations outlined in the record of decision.

Methods of Cleanup:

The various ways to respond to site contamination can be grouped into the following categories:

Containing the contaminants to prevent them from migrating from their source;

Removing the contaminants from the aquifer;

Remediating the aquifer by either immobilizing or detoxifying the contaminants while they are still in the aquifer;

Treating the groundwater at its point of use

Abandoning the use of the aquifer and finding an alternative source of water.

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