Nanotechnology Project

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Nanoremediation Map

A 2004 EPA report (EPA, 2004) estimated that it will take 30 to 35 years and cost up to $250 billion to clean up the nation’s hazardous waste sites. EPA anticipates that these high costs will provide an incentive to develop and implement cleanup approaches and technologies that will result in better, cheaper, and faster site cleanups. Nanoremediation has the potential not only to reduce the overall costs of cleaning up large scale contaminated sites, but it also can reduce cleanup time, eliminate the need for treatment and disposal of contaminated dredged soil, reduce some contaminant concentrations to near zero, and can be done in situ. In situ nanoremediation methods entail the application of reactive nanomaterials for transformation and detoxification of pollutants in situ, or below ground. No groundwater is pumped out for above ground treatment, and no soil is transported to other places for treatment and disposal. Because of the high cost and lengthy operating periods for pump-and-treat remedies, in situ groundwater treatment technologies are increasing.

In addition to groundwater remediation, nanotechnology holds promise in reducing the presence of non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPL). Recently, a material utilizing nano-sized oxides (mostly calcium) was used in situ to clean up heating oil spills from underground oil tanks. Preliminary results from this redox-based technology suggest faster, cheaper methods, and, ultimately, lower overall contaminant levels compared to previous remediation methods. A majority of these sites have been in New Jersey with cleanup conducted in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Although the technology is likely a beneficial replacement of current practices for site remediation, potential risks are poorly understood. The factors and processes affecting ecotoxicity are complex, and knowledge of the potential impacts of manufactured nanoparticles in the environment on human health is still limited. Most societal issues are based on these unknown risks of using nanoscale materials for site remediation. In order to prevent any potential adverse environmental impacts, proper evaluation, including full-scale ecosystem wide studies, of these nanoparticles needs to be addressed.

For a more detailed analysis of nanoremediation see: Environmental Health Perspectives

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