Physical/chemical treatment uses the physical properties of the contaminants or the contaminated medium to destroy (i.e., chemically convert), separate, or contain the contamination. Soil vapor extraction uses the contaminant's volatility to separate it from the soil. Soil flushing uses the contaminant's solubility in liquid to physically separate it from the soil. Surfactants may be added to the flushing solution to chemically increase the solubility of a contaminant. Solidification/stabilization also uses both physical and chemical means. Solidification encapsulates the contaminant, while stabilization physically alters or binds with the contaminant. Pneumatic fracturing is an enhanced technique that physically alters the contaminated media's permeability by injecting pressurized air to develop cracks in consolidated materials.
Physical/chemical treatment is typically cost effective and can be completed in short time periods (in comparison with biological treatment). Equipment is readily available and is not engineering or energy-intensive. Treatment residuals from separation techniques will require treatment or disposal, which will add to the total project costs and may require permits. Extraction fluids from soil flushing will increase the mobility of the contaminants, so provisions must be made for subsurface recovery.
Available in situ physical/chemical treatment technologies include electrokinectic separation, soil vapor extraction, soil flushing, solidification/stabilization, and fracturing (blast-enhanced, pneumatic, and lasagna process).
Certain in situ physical/chemical treatment technologies are sensitive to certain soil parameters. For example, the presence of clay or humic materials in soil causes variations in horizontal and vertical hydraulic parameters, which, in turn, cause variations in physical/chemical process performance. Stabilization/solidification technologies are less sensitive to soil parameters than other physical/chemical treatment technologies.