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Content archived on 2024-05-21

A decision support system to quantify cost/benefit relationships of the use of vegetation in the management of heavy metal polluted soils and dredged sediments


Problems to be solved
Phytoremediation, i.e. the use of vegetation to reduce the environmental impact of heavy metals (and other pollutants) in soils and dredged sediments is a promising emerging "green" soil management and soil remediation technology to reduce migration of heavy metals to groundwater and surface water. Scope and limitations are however not fully known yet. This hampers a broader practical application or, even worse, leads to applications in situations where other techniques are more appropriate and vice versa. PhytoDec aims at developing a straightforward tool, that provides end-users and policy makers with a reliable and validated decision support system (DSS) for the design of tailor-made soil remediation strategies. As soil pollution with heavy metals is still widespread in Europe, the appearance and consolidation of an alternative green technology is relevant for EU policies, especially when concerning extended areas of moderate pollution level, where high costs do not permit conventional technological solutions. A specific potential application area is the use of phytoremediation when preparing set-aside agricultural land for reforestation and nature development, which continues to be a major EU policy. The future extension of the EC to include vast heavy metal polluted areas in Eastern Europe will extend phytoremediation applicability and therefore sufficient know-how to develop adequate remediation strategies.
Scientific objectives and approach
PhytoDec aims at the construction of a Decision Support System (DSS) to assess the practical applicability of phytoremediation in quantitative terms; together with an annexed analytical protocol for monitoring purposes the DSS constitutes the main project deliverable. The DSS enables the assessment of practical applicability of the use of vegetation to abate soil pollution, in comparison to other soil remediation options, through relating cost parameters to environmental effectiveness parameters.
The approach, adopted to reach this main project objective within the four years of project duration starts with filling the most important remaining process-related knowledge gaps, that greatly affect phytoremediation practical applicability, including:
long term cost/benefit relationships;
the importance of environmental side-effects;
effective monitoring of phyto-stabilisation effects;
prediction of phyto-extraction duration, based on soil chemical and plant physiological processes.
During DSS-construction extensive attention is given to the validation of the DSS and more specifically its process-related calculation routines. This is achieved though carrying out mesocosm experiments and field trials during all four years of project duration. Extension to end-users starts in an early project phase, making use of all partner's scientific, political and potential end-user networks. At the end of the project a workshop will be organised to finally present the DSS to a representative and influential group of end-users at a European level.
Expected impacts
When successful, PhytoDec provides end-users and policy makers in Europe with a validated tool (DSS) to decide whether phytoremediation is applicable or not at their specific heavy metal polluted sites. The DSS relates scientific (soil remediation effectiveness and duration) aspects to cost aspects (land value during remediation, monitoring costs etc.) and social aspects (public acceptance and landscape values during and after phytoremediation etc.). It contributes to a better and healthier environment as it creates possibilities to reduce environmental impacts of extended polluted areas at a lower cost, thus permitting community funds to be used for other priority environmental targets. Its main impact therefore is to contribute to a more effective and equilibrated application of conventional and emerging soil remediation techniques, avoiding errors leading to losses of taxpayer's and commercial company money. Impacts affect three types of end-users: policy makers and local governments owners of polluted sites, both industrial companies and governments commercial companies involved in soil remediation and soil management.

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Participants (7)