Contaminants in high-risk areas

Contact: Gianniantonio Petruzzelli (Unit of Pisa)
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In Italy there are many abandoned ex-industrial areas: some are so contaminated that they pose a threat to the environment and human health. Contaminants have been discovered in soil as well as in surface and groundwater.There is also significant transport of toxic substances from contaminated sites to the surrounding areas.

In order to achieve a safe environment, it is important to investigate contaminated sites and apply remediation treatments to reduce the risks for humans and the environment in an appropriate and long-term sustainable way.



Our research stems from the awareness that soil is a not renewable resource and that it plays a fundamental role in environment protection. Damage to soil very often means damage to other environmental media and human health. A comprehensive soil protection strategy is needed to tackle the various aspects of soil degradation, including erosion, organic matter decline, compaction, salinisation, and pollution. The increasing interest in protecting soil functionality has instigated the development of innovative remediation strategies to restore the soil quality of contaminated land for future use. These strategies take into account both cleanup efficiency and the minimization of the negative effects on the environment and soil quality. Thus less invasive in situ technologies, such as bioremediation and phytoremediation are considered as effective primary remedies in order to minimize soil disturbance, and if possible to restore the high quality of soils . As an example of this approach we developed a new method based on the removal of the most dangerous fraction of the contaminants, which we defined as Enhanced Bioavailable Contaminants Stripping EBCS (Figure 1). EBCS is promising since it removes the most dangerous metal forms, and also substantially shortens the cleanup time. This is in line with “Green remediation” strategies that consider the environmental impacts of remediation activities at every stage of the remedial process, in order to maximize the net environmental benefit of a cleanup. Remediation activities without negative impacts on the environment (such as greenhouse gas emissions from combustible fuels, or dust dispersions in the surroundings), are essential to protect human health in these critical areas where contamination threatens the health of the inhabitants. Future research will focus on the application of green remediation to sites contaminated by organics such as PAH and dioxins