The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in February that a Superfund site in Davis, California would use solar energy to power the country’s first federal groundwater cleanup. Toxic chemicals in a small waste pond near the Frontier Fertilizer Superfund site reached such high levels in the 1980s that a dog died after swimming in the contaminated water. At that time, federal regulators predicted that it would take between 150 and 200 years to clean up the site. Frontier Fertilizer, the company that originally owned the site, had been dumping pesticides and fertilizers in unlined tanks and basins, resulting in a poisonous stew that spread in all directions, risking leaching into the city of Davis’s water supply.
Quoted in an EPA press release, U.S. Congressman, Mike Thompson, said, “Gains of this magnitude would not have been possible without the innovative use of solar panels to power the cleanup. These are exactly the kinds of smart, targeted investments that will help create jobs, strengthen our economy, and position our community as a leader in the clean energy industry.”
The current energy conservation and cleanup accomplishments at the Davis Superfund site include an electrical resistance heating system that is expected to reduce the groundwater cleanup time to approximately 30 years. More than $2.5 million, most of which came in the form of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has gone toward installing a half-acre of solar panels at the site to power the heating system. The system includes 236 heating electrodes that heat soil and groundwater to the boiling point of water. The water and contaminants are then converted into a noxious gas that is pumped to the surface via 16 extraction wells and treated with granular activated carbon to remove the chemicals. There are 27 temperature-monitoring wells to monitor the below ground operations.
The EPA hopes this type of technology will become a model for the more than 1,000 locations across the nation considered so harmful to the environment or public health that cleaning them up qualifies for millions in federal funding. The Superfund environmental program was established to allow the EPA to clean up hazardous waste sites largely in response to the infamous Love Canal disaster in the 1970s when residents of a Niagara Falls neighborhood found rusting containers of toxic chemicals leaching into their backyards and basements.
The EPA first installed solar panels at the Frontier location in 2007, but while the initial system helped to partially offset the electrical energy required for the groundwater treatment system, it wasn’t enough to fully power the site. Last year, $350,000 in federal stimulus money was used to expand the solar system, which now provides 100 percent of the power for the groundwater treatment system.
Article by Julie Mitchell, appearing courtesy Celsias.