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Abstract

A detailed cradle-to-grave life-cycle assessment (LCA) of an in situ thermal treatment remedy for a chlorinated-solvent-contaminated site was performed using process LCA. The major materials and activities necessary to install, operate, monitor, and deconstruct the remedy were included in the analysis. The analysis was based on an actual site remedy design and implementation to determine the potential environmental impacts, pinpoint major contributors to impacts, and identify opportunities for improvements during future implementation.

The Electro-Thermal Dynamic Stripping Process (ET-DSP™) in situ thermal technology coupled with a dual-phase extraction and treatment system was evaluated for the remediation of 4,400 yd3 of tetrachloroethene- and trichloroethene-impacted soil, groundwater, and bedrock. The analysis was based on an actual site with an estimated source mass of 2,200 lbs of chlorinated solvents. The remedy was separated into four stages: remedy installation, remedy operation, monitoring, and remedy deconstruction. Environmental impacts were assessed using Sima Pro software, the ecoinvent database, and the ReCiPe midpoint and endpoint methods.

The operation stage of the remedy dominated the environmental impacts across all categories due to the large amount of electricity required by the thermal treatment technology. Alternate sources of electricity could significantly reduce the environmental impacts of the remedy across all impact categories. Other large impacts were observed in the installation stage resulting from the large amount of diesel fuel, steel, activated carbon, and asphalt materials required to implement the technology. These impacts suggest where opportunities for footprint reductions can be found through best management practices such as increased materials reuse, increased recycled-content materials use, and clean fuels and emission control technologies. Smaller impacts were observed in the monitoring and deconstruction stages. Normalized results show the largest environmental burdens to fossil depletion, human toxicity, particulate matter formation, and climate-change categories resulting from activities associated with mining of fossil fuels for use in electricity production.

In situ thermal treatment can reliably remediate contaminated source areas with contaminants located in low-permeability zones, providing complete destruction of contaminants in a short amount of time, quick return of the site to productive use, and minimized quantities of hazardous materials stored in landfills for future generations to remediate. However, this remediation strategy can also result in significant emissions over a short period of time. It is difficult to quantify the overall value of short-term cleanups with intense treatment emissions against longer-term cleanups with lower treatment emissions because of the environmental, social, and economic trade-offs that need to be considered and understood. LCA is a robust, quantitative tool to help inform stakeholder discussions related to the remedy selection process, trade-off considerations, and environmental footprint-reduction opportunities, and to complement a broader toolbox for the evaluation of sustainable remediation strategies. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.