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Nature based solutions for contaminated land remediation and brownfield redevelopment in cities: A review

A collaboration of researchers from various Universities from around the world recently published a research paper in Science of the Total Environment that reviews nature based solutions for contaminated land remediation. The paper contends that Nature-based solutions (NBS) including phytoremediation and conversion of brownfield sites to public greenspaces, holds much promise in maximizing a sustainable urban renaissance.

The researchers claim that urban industrialization has caused severe land contamination at hundreds of thousands of sites in cities all around the world, posing a serious health risk to millions of people. The also state that many contaminated brownfield sites are being left abandoned due to the high cost of remediation.

Traditional physical and chemical remediation technologies also require high energy and resource input, and can result in loss of land functionality and cause secondary pollution.

NBS is an umbrella concept that can be used to capture nature based, cost effective and eco-friendly treatment technologies, as well as redevelopment strategies that are socially inclusive, economically viable, and with good public acceptance. The NBS concept is novel and in urgent need of new research to better understand the pros and cons, and to enhance its practicality.

The review article summarizes NBS’s main features, key technology choices, case studies, limitations, and future trends for urban contaminated land remediation and brownfield redevelopment.

Phytoforensics: Using Trees to Find Contamination

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently prepared on Fact Sheet on how phytoforensics can be used to screen for contamination prior to traditional sampling methods.  Phytoforensics is a low cost, rapid sampling method that collects tree-core samples from the tree trunk to map the extent of contamination below the ground.

By utilizing phytoforensics, environmental professionals can save the cost and time associated with traditional methods of subsurface investigation – drilling boreholes, installing monitoring wells.

Scientists at the Missouri Water Science Center were among the first to use phytoforensics for contamination screening prior to employing traditional sampling methods, to guide additional sampling, and to show the large cost savings associated with tree sampling compared to traditional methods, to guide additional sampling, and to show the large cost savings associated with tree sampling compared to traditional methods.

The advantages of phytoforensics include the following: quickly screen sites for subsurface contamination; cost- and time-effective approach that uses pre-existing trees; non-invasive method (no drill rigs or heavy equipment required); and representative of large subsurface volumes.

Phytoforensics testing involves the collection of a tree-core sample with necessary sampling equipment including an incremental borer, forceps, a sample vial, and gloves.  Samples are collected at about 3 feet (1 metre) above ground surface, placed into vials for subsequent laboratory analysis.

Similar to phytoforensics, phytoremediation is the field of looking to use plants to mitigate environmental pollutants and human exposures. As plants are efficient, key components in local and global water, carbon and energy cycles, they can influence pollutant transport and availability in many different ways.

Dr. Joel Burken, Missouri S&T professor of civil and environmental engineering, tests a tree in Rolla’s Schuman Park with then high school senior Amanda Holmes and S&T graduate student Matt Limmer. Photo by B.A. Rupert

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