Soil Vapor Extraction (In Situ)


Soil vapor extraction (SVE) is an in situ unsaturated (vadose) zone soil remediation technology in which a vacuum is applied to the soil to induce the controlled flow of air and remove volatile and some semivolatile contaminants from the soil. The gas leaving the soil may be treated to recover or destroy the contaminants, depending on local and state air discharge regulations. Vertical extraction vents are typically used at depths of 1.5 meters (5 feet) or greater and have been successfully applied as deep as 91 meters (300 feet). Horizontal extraction vents (installed in trenches or horizontal borings) can be used as warranted by contaminant zone geometry, drill rig access, or other site-specific factors.

For the soil surface, geomembrane covers are often placed over soil surface to prevent short circuiting and to increase the radius of influence of the wells.

Ground water depression pumps may be used to reduce ground water upwelling induced by the vacuum or to increase the depth of the vadose zone. Air injection is effective for facilitating extraction of deep contamination, contamination in low permeability soils, and contamination in the saturated zone.

The duration of operation and maintenance for in situ SVE is typically medium- to long-term.

Typical In Situ Soil Vapor Extraction System


The target contaminant groups for in situ SVE are VOCs and some fuels. The technology is typically applicable only to volatile compounds with a Henry's law constant greater than 0.01 or a vapor pressure greater than 0.5 mm Hg (0.02 inches Hg). Other factors, such as the moisture content, organic content, and air permeability of the soil, will also affect in situ SVE's effectiveness. In situ SVE will not remove heavy oils, metals, PCBs, or dioxins. Because the process involves the continuous flow of air through the soil, however, it often promotes the in situ biodegradation of low-volatility organic compounds that may be present.


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

  • Soil that has a high percentage of fines and a high degree of saturation will require higher vacuums (increasing costs) and/or hindering the operation of the in situ SVE system.
  • Large screened intervals are required in extraction wells for soil with highly variable permeabilities or stratification, which otherwise may result in uneven delivery of gas flow from the contaminated regions.
  • Soil that has high organic content or is extremely dry has a high sorption capacity of VOCs, which results in reduced removal rates.
  • Exhaust air from in situ SVE system may require treatment to eliminate possible harm to the public and the environment.
  • As a result of off-gas treatment, residual liquids may require treatment/disposal. Spent activated carbon will definitely require regeneration or disposal.
  • SVE is not effective in the saturated zone; however, lowering the water table can expose more media to SVE (this may address concerns regarding LNAPLs).

Data Needs

Data requirements include the depth and areal extent of contamination, the concentration of the contaminants, depth to water table, and soil type and properties (e.g., structure, texture, permeability, and moisture content).

Pilot studies should be performed to provide design information, including extraction well, radius of influence, gas flow rates, optimal applied vacuum, and contaminant mass removal rates.

Performance Data

A field pilot study is necessary to establish the feasibility of the method as well as to obtain information necessary to design and configure the system. During full-scale operation, in situ SVE can be run intermittently (pulsed operation) once the extracted mass removal rate has reached an asymptotic level. This pulsed operation can increase the cost-effectiveness of the system by facilitating extraction of higher concentrations of contaminants. After the contaminants are removed by in situ SVE, other remedial measures, such as biodegradation, can be investigated if remedial action objectives have not been met. In situ SVE projects are typically completed in 18 months.


The cost of in situ SVE is site-specific, depending on the size of the site, the nature and amount of contamination, and the hydrogeological setting (EPA, July 1989). These factors affect the number of wells, the blower capacity and vacuum level required, and the length of time required to remediate the site. A requirement for off-gas treatment adds significantly to the cost. Water is also frequently extracted during the process and usually requires treatment prior to disposal, further adding to the cost. Cost estimates for in situ SVE range between $10 and $50 per cubic meter ($10 and $40 per cubic yard) of soil. Pilot testing typically costs $10,000 to $100,000.

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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