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WTFAQ is “Green Remediation?”

Hey there, ecoSPEARS readers! Welcome back to our blog, and before you ask – no, we are not going to rick-roll you with another blog post on the Hudson. This time, anyway. Maybe next time. Maybe not. Got to keep you all on your toes somehow.

Since our company’s inception, we’ve strived to bring awareness to the global scale of the PCB problem and how these toxins – and others – have such a profound impact on adverse effects to human health, public safety, wildlife, and the environment. Rather than simply post another blog entries about how dangerous exposure to PCBs are for these factors, we’re going to take you down a slightly different – albeit parallel – path.

Surely by now, you’ve heard the buzzword “green” more frequently in mainstream news media, most likely relating to technology or the environment. But as many hits as clickbait articles with “green” in the headline can generate all over the world, many people are still scratching their heads over what “green” actually means here. So, for this week’s blog post, and in light of Earth Day approaching later this month, we want to dive a little deeper into what “green” actually encompasses. Specifically, green remediation. For this, we have to go back in time, to the days of Blockbuster, floppy disk, and dial-up internet.

In 1995, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called for united global action to be taken on removing toxic substances from the environment due to the nature of these toxins to bioaccumulate through the food chain until they eventually find their way into our bodies. Following this, between 1998 and 2000, the International Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) delivered an assessment on twelve of the most common, most toxic environmental toxins, which became known as “the dirty dozen,” including DDT and PCBs. This forum continued and in 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden, the parties involved in the forum agreed to a process which allows POPs to be evaluated, addressed, and added to the convention’s agenda on remediation protocols.

This then became known as the Stockholm Convention, the main objective of which is to “protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.” As of 2018, the Stockholm Convention consists of regulators and dignitaries from 182 countries.

So, we now have a convention of global leaders who have evaluated and addressed the dangers of toxic contaminants in the environment. Great! Now what?

Well, since its start in 2001, the Stockholm Convention has worked closely with its members to further define its objectives and how said objectives will be met. In 2009, the parties of the Stockholm Convention created the PCB Elimination Network (PEN) to effectively “manage PCBs in an environmentally sound manner.” PEN’s two main goals are; 1) phase out the use of PCBs globally by 2025, and; 2) eliminate the 83% of total PCB waste that remains in the environment by 2028.

PEN’s two main goals are; 1) phase out the use of PCBs globally by 2025, and; 2) eliminate the 83% of total PCB waste that remains in the environment by 2028. For reference, this means that only 17% of all PCBs ever manufactured and distributed in the environment have been eliminated, and the remaining 83% equates to some 14,000,000 tons remaining in the environment waiting to be eliminated. PEN has likewise aligned its objectives to six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are likewise to be met by 2028.PEN has likewise aligned its objectives to six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are likewise to be met by 2028.

“An audacious goal, indeed,” you might say, “but how can we effectively eliminate 14 million tons of PCBs by 2028?” Well.…that’s the thing. According to PEN, involved parties are “currently not on track to achieve the 2025 and 2028 goals.”

Despite PEN’s objectives currently being off-track, the goals – audacious as they are – are not entirely impossible. As with all global problems, effectively meeting these goals requires a unified alignment of vision from all parties involved to address, not only the greater problem but any issues that do or could potentially arise from attempting to achieve these goals. For example, potential issues that could arise in attempting to eliminate 14 million tons of PCBs could include:

  1. Cost of utilized manpower and technology to assess, remove, and destroy PCBs
  2. Disruption to communities where PCBs remain in the environment, or communities where PCB storage/disposal facilities are located
  3. The potential risk of damage to sensitive environmental areas and/or wildlife

Just to name a few. These issues are one reason why, in 2010, US EPA’s Superfund program published a document on “Superfund Green Remediation Strategy.” By EPA’s own definition, “Green remediation is the practice of considering all environmental effects of remedy implementation and incorporating options to minimize the environmental footprints of cleanup actions.” In layman’s terms, this means using less water and energy to reduce overall emissions and/or carbon footprints of environmental remediation projects, while minimizing overall bottom-line costs – direct and indirect alike – to stakeholders and communities.

US EPA and other agencies have found that, in the past, the process of cleaning up hazardous waste in the environment can consequently create its own environmental footprint. Have you ever been stuck in traffic behind a large diesel-engine truck only to have the air around you clouded with thick black smoke from the truck’s exhaust when it starts accelerating? Now imagine instead of one truck, you have a hundred or more of those trucks driving the same route, day after day, for months or years. All those emissions create greenhouse gas (GHG) which pose their own problem to the environment. Perhaps you’ve seen dredging vessels on lakes or rivers operating 24/7 for an indefinite amount of time, wondering how much fuel those vessels take to stay in operation for a year-long cleanup project. Or maybe you’ve even driven past a large area of fenced-off land around a landfill facility where never-ending plumes from smokestacks emit foul-smelling black smoke for so long you almost find yourself getting used to it?

All of these examples and others are some of the factors the US EPA, UN, PEN, Stockholm Convention, and others seek to mitigate when they mention “green remediation.” The US EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) has identified five elements to better define green remediation and how it can best help mitigate, and eventually eliminate, negative impacts and footprints involved in environmental cleanup projects.

It’s also noted that these elements, and the means by which green remediation cleanups are evaluated and achieved, are not a disincentive to active remediation procedures such as Dig & Haul (D&H), landfilling, or thermal desorption, but are viewed and meant as a means to operate alongside traditional remediation procedures to mitigate risk. Environmental remediation in itself is a lengthy and complex process. It can involve anywhere from a dozen, to multiple hundreds of involved parties and stakeholders to even assess a design plan for a remediation project, yet alone to implement and pay for a comprehensive cleanup project. In this sense, “green” is not an outright replacement for the “traditional,” but a parallel stream of operation meant to streamline the process in a less risky, less complex, less costly, and more affective – and effective – manner.

We here at ecoSPEARS are but one organization of thousands or more committed to aiding regulators, agencies, and stakeholders in assessing and implementing green remediation methods and technologies to aid in removing and destroying toxic contamination such as PCBs from the environment forever. Our vision, mission, and goals align with those of the Stockholm Convention, US EPA Superfund Green Remediation program, the UNEP, and PEN. Two examples of our green remediation technology are the Sorbent Polymer Extraction And Remediation System (SPEARS) for contaminated sediments, and the Additive Desorption System (ADS) for contaminated soils and dewatered sediments.

Correlating with this, our team is extremely pleased to announce that ecoSPEARS was recently accepted as a new member to the PCB Elimination Network to assist in PEN’s goals of eliminating remaining PCB waste in the environment by 2028! It is an audacious goal to be sure, but again, not an impossible one.

We hope that this post better defined what green remediation truly means and hope that you can use what you’ve learned today to help bring awareness to and educate others in green technologies. Thank you for reading and, as always, we’ll see you next time.