Fuels, oils and solvents contaminating groundwater and soils

Solutions for the management of complex contaminants in subsurface environments.

The Challenge

Fuels, oils and solvents remain a source of risk over decades

Fuels, oils and solvents can leak from storage facilities (service station sites, oil terminals, industrial complexes) to contaminate groundwater and soils. Australia has over 30,000 storage facilities, and cost of regulation has been estimated at over $1.5 billion annually.

Fuels, oils and solvents are often complex mixtures of thousands of compounds, with compounds having variable toxicities and transport properties. Compounds found in fuels such as benzene, a known carcinogen, can degas to an air phase creating a vapour inhalation risk to human health, and can dissolve into groundwater over decades impacting water resources. Once present in subsurface environments, removal and remediation is difficult and extremely costly.

Our Response

National guidance and solutions

For subsurface environments impacted by fuels and oils, our work has generated national guidance on contaminated site characterisation, on vapour inhalation risk assessment and on selection of effective remediation options. Together, we are partnering actively with government agencies and industry.

  • We have shown the effectiveness of new and available remediation strategies to reduce the subsurface mass of fuels, oils and solvents and to reduce risk drivers, such as benzene.
  • We have effectively induced conditions in the subsurface to enhance the bioremediation of fuel spills of different types.
  • We have quantified the natural processes in subsurface environments that control mass and risk reduction, including the natural biodegradation of fuels and solvents by native microorganisms in soils and groundwater.
  • We are assessing in situ, the long term changes in fuel and solvent composition and risk, where remediation efforts may still leave residual quantities in subsurface environments.

The Results

Healthier environments and reduced costs for industry

Our research outputs have been adopted by the global research community, by regulatory authorities and industry. Industry see over 10-fold benefits due to national guidance and technology options. The regulatory community appreciate a more accurate definition of risk, avoiding overly conservative and expensive approaches whilst ensuring safe and healthy living conditions and environments.

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