Engineered Containment and Control Systems: Nurturing Nature

Authors


*Address correspondence to James H. Clarke, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; james.h.clarke@vanderbilt.edu.

Abstract

The development of engineered containment and control systems for contaminated sites must consider the environmental setting of each site. The behaviors of both contaminated materials and engineered systems are affected by environmental conditions that will continue to evolve over time as a result of such natural processes as climate change, ecological succession, pedogenesis, and landform changes. Understanding these processes is crucial to designing, implementing, and maintaining effective systems for sustained health and environmental protection. Traditional engineered systems such as landfill liners and caps are designed to resist natural processes rather than working with them. These systems cannot be expected to provide long-term isolation without continued maintenance. In some cases, full-scale replacement and remediation may be required within 50 years, at an effort and cost much higher than for the original cleanup. Approaches are being developed to define smarter containment and control systems for stewardship sites, considering lessons learned from implementing prescriptive waste disposal regulations enacted since the 1970s. These approaches more effectively involve integrating natural and engineered systems; enhancing sensors and predictive tools for evaluating performance; and incorporating information on failure events, including precursors and consequences, into system design and maintenance. An important feature is using natural analogs to predict environmental conditions and system responses over the long term, to accommodate environmental change in the design process, and, as possible, to engineer containment systems that mimic favorable natural systems. The key emphasis is harmony with the environment, so systems will work with and rely on natural processes rather than resisting them. Implementing these new integrated systems will reduce current requirements for active management, which are resource-intensive and expensive.

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