In Davis, California, solar energy is being used to clean up a Superfund site where pesticides were dumped from the 1960s until the 1980s. The chemicals predictably leached into groundwater supplies, threatening not only those Davis residents on wells, but those who use the public water system.
Superfund sites are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated geographic locations where hazardous waste dumping has left the land unusable for most purposes. These wastes run the gamut from lead and asbestos to heavy metals, chemicals used in industry like solvents, caustics and acids, and the pesticides and herbicides used in farming.
Some sites are referred to as brownfields. Technically, a brownfield is a piece of land whose redevelopment for human purposes (housing, recreation, etc.) is hampered by a hazardous substance, but the term is loosely used to refer to many Superfund projects.
The story, from the regional newspaper Sacramento Bee, highlights the redevelopment at the former Frontier Fertilizer and Barber and Rowland Co. site, where the dumping of pesticides into a pit (and wastewater into holes in the ground) threatens well water and public water supplies in the east Davis neighborhood where both firms once operated.
The difference between this and every other Superfund site is that the EPA is using solar energy from solar PV panels to speed the removal of toxic wastes. Each solar array contains more than 300 panels, and each provides enough electricity to pump 80 gallons of water per minute from the ground into steel tanks, where carbon helps remove the toxic chemicals.
Thanks to $2.5 million in federal funding from the stimulus package, and the deployment of solar PV, cleanup time for the Davis community has been reduced to 30 years, or 20 percent of the original estimate of 150 years.
As EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenthal noted, the cleanup process sets a paradigm for future groundwater remediation projects – one that promises to redeem what was a very dirty, very negligent, and highly illegal management practice.
Photo Credit: Neil Kelley via Flickr CC