Contaminant remediation using permeable reactive barriers
Check out our Permeable Reactive Barrier Reference Zone
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Illustration of a permeable reactive barrier remediating a plume
Definition of permeable reactive barriers
History of the technology
Scope of the technology
Design of permeable reactive barriers
Lab studies & site characterization
Monitoring for compliance and performance
Additional sources of information on permeable reactive barriers

What is a permeable reactive barrier?
A permeable reactive subsurface barrier can be defined as:
an emplacement of reactive materials in the subsurface designed to intercept a contaminant plume, provide a preferential flow path through the reactive media, and transform the contaminant(s) into environmentally acceptable forms to attain remediation concentration goals at the discharge of the barrier.

What is the history of remediation with iron metal?
History shows that the concept of using iron and other zero-valent or zero-oxidation-state metals for contaminant remediation in the subsurface environment is very recent, with most of the research occurring since 1987. Earlier research in non-environmental fields had noted phenomena, however, that would be rediscovered by environmental scientists.

What is the scope of this technology?
Permeable reactive subsurface barriers are used in full-scale field applications for the treatment of plumes of chlorinated hydrocarbons, chromate, acid mine drainage (AMD), and several others. Research in both the laboratory and in the field has been carried out on a variety of reactive materials and contaminants for the past two decades. Information about six of the early full scale reactive barriers that were installed in the field is provided in Table 1.

How are these barriers designed?
Two primary designs are used in full-scale implementations of reactive barriers, (1) the funnel and gate and (2) the continuous trench. Other designs have been used, but these are the predominant types.
The basic design of a funnel and gate system is shown in Figure 1a. Basically, an impermeable "funnel", typically consisting of interlocking sheet pilings or slurry walls, is emplaced to encompass and direct the flow of contaminated water to a "gate" or "gates" containing the permeable zone of reactive Fe metal. The design must prevent the contaminant plume from flowing around the barrier. Due to directing large amounts of water through a much smaller cross-sectional area of the aquifer, ground water velocities within the barrier will be higher than those resulting from the natural gradient. The continuous trench (Figure 1b) is simply a trench that has been excavated and simultaneously backfilled with reactive Fe, allowing the water to pass through the barrier under its natural gradient.

What site characterization do you need to do?
All PRB configurations require that information on contaminant concentration, contaminant degradation rate in the presence of the reactive substrate, and ground water flow rate through the barrier be known. This allows determination of the required residence time in the zone needed to achieve remedial goals, hence allowing calculation of the required thickness of the reactive zone. To accomplish this requires both laboratory studies and careful site characterization.

How do you monitor the success of the barrier?
Both regulatory compliance and treatment performance monitoring are necessary when using reactive barrier technology. The sampling program objectives and site conditions should be carefully considered when locating the wells, selecting the screen lengths, and designing other aspects of the monitoring well system.

Sources of Additional Information on Permeable Reactive Barriers
EnviroMetal Technologies Inc.
Remediation Technologies Development Forum (RTDF), Permeable Barriers Action Team
Center for Groundwater Research, IronRefs Bibliographic Database