Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable

Soil Flushing



In situ soil flushing is the extraction of contaminants from the soil with water or other suitable aqueous solutions. Soil flushing is accomplished by passing the extraction fluid through in-place soils using an injection or infiltration process. Extraction fluids must be recovered from the underlying aquifer and, when possible, they are recycled.

Cosolvent Enhancement

Cosolvent flushing involves injecting a solvent mixture (e.g., water plus a miscible organic solvent such as alcohol) into either vadose zone, saturated zone, or both to extract organic contaminants. Cosolvent flushing can be applied to soils to dissolve either the source of contamination or the contaminant plume emanating from it. The cosolvent mixture is normally injected upgradient of the contaminated area, and the solvent with dissolved contaminants is extracted downgradient and treated above ground.

Recovered ground water and flushing fluids with the desorbed contaminants may need treatment to meet appropriate discharge standards prior to recycle or release to local, publicly owned wastewater treatment works or receiving streams. To the maximum extent practical, recovered fluids should be reused in the flushing process. The separation of surfactants from recovered flushing fluid, for reuse in the process, is a major factor in the cost of soil flushing. Treatment of the recovered fluids results in process sludges and residual solids, such as spent carbon and spent ion exchange resin, which must be appropriately treated before disposal. Air emissions of volatile contaminants from recovered flushing fluids should be collected and treated, as appropriate, to meet applicable regulatory standards. Residual flushing additives in the soil may be a concern and should be evaluated on a site-specific basis.

The target contaminant group for soil flushing is inorganics including radioactive contaminants. The technology can be used to treat VOCs, SVOCs, fuels, and pesticides, but it may be less cost-effective than alternative technologies for these contaminant groups. The addition of environmentally compatible surfactants may be used to increase the effective solubility of some organic compounds; however, the flushing solution may alter the physical/chemical properties of the soil system. The technology offers the potential for recovery of metals and can mobilize a wide range of organic and inorganic contaminants from coarse-grained soils.


Factors that may limit the applicability and effectiveness of the process include:

Low permeability or heterogeneous soils are difficult to treat.
Surfactants can adhere to soil and reduce effective soil porosity.
Reactions of flushing fluids with soil can reduce contaminant mobility.

The potential of washing the contaminant beyond the capture zone and the introduction of surfactants to the subsurface concern regulators. The technology should be used only where flushed contaminants and soil flushing fluid can be contained and recaptured.
Aboveground separation and treatment costs for recovered fluids can drive the economics of the process.

Data Needs

Treatability tests are required to determine the feasibility of the specific soil-flushing process being considered. Physical and chemical soil characterization parameters that should be established include soil permeability, soil structure, soil texture, soil porosity, moisture content, total organic carbon (TOC), cation exchange capacity (CEC), pH, and buffering capacity.

Contaminant characteristics that should be established include concentration, solubility, partition coefficient, solubility products, reduction potential, and complex stability constants. Soil and contaminant characteristics will determine the flushing fluids required, flushing fluid compatibility, and changes in flushing fluids with changes in contaminants.

Performance Data

Soil flushing is a developing technology that has had limited use in the United States. Typically, laboratory and field treatability studies must be performed under site-specific conditions before soil flushing is selected as the remedy of choice. To date, the technology has been selected as part of the source control remedy at 12 Superfund sites. This technology is currently operational at only one Superfund site; a second was scheduled to begin operation in 1991. EPA completed construction of a mobile soil-flushing system, the In Situ Contaminant/Treatment Unit, in 1988. This mobile soil-flushing system is designed for use at spills and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. There has been very little commercial success with this technology.


The cost of soil flushing depends greatly on the type and concentration of surfactants used, if they are used at all. Rough estimates ranging from $25 to $250 per cubic yard have been reported.

Additional cost information can be found in the Hazardous, Toxic, and Radioactive Wastes (HTRW) Historical Cost Analysis System (HCAS) developed by Environmental Historical Cost Committee of Interagency Cost Estimation Group.

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