The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Investigating Soil Remediation Techniques for Military Explosive and Weapons Contaminated Sites



In order to best remediate a site contaminated with explosives such as TNT, RDX, or HMX one must carefully analyze not only the type of contamination, but also the size and nature of the site itself.  For active sites such as weapons ranges, in-situ remediation is the preferred method, as it allows for ongoing operations, especially those critical for the training of Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines.  In-situ remediation is also sought after for sites where site access is not easily obtained, and therefore large-scale remediation efforts are not feasible.  Solutions for these active sites must meet criteria in which they prove to be cost-effective, applied without the use of special equipment or specially trained operators, and be able to be integrated in routine range operations.  The need for a cost effective solution is driven by the range sizes, which can range from several acres to many square miles.  In addition, without the “buy-in” from those operating the ranges and those allocating the funding for range maintenance, any remediation solution on an active site will not remain sustainable.   Currently the application of lime through alkaline hydrolysis and the use of biological methods through phytoremediation hold the best potential for in-situ methods.  This is not to discount ex-situ methods which, when applied to certain sites, can be the effective methods.  Locations such as abandoned munitions plants or other facilities where there is not an immediate need for the land and it is deemed appropriate to bring in equipment and personnel may allow for the most complete removal of the contaminants from the site. Incineration, composting, land farming, and soil slurry methods all have proven to be effective ways to break down the contaminants, although for the reasons above they are only best for special situations and sites where other contaminates are present that are not removed using in-situ methods.


 Ultimately, while ongoing research continues to examine ways to remediate contaminated sites in the most effective ways possible, there may also be the opportunity for research into the design and development of ranges that can prevent contamination from becoming an issue.  Using design methodology from sites with contamination such as landfills could help develop base containment systems using clay liners and geotextiles that can prevent contaminants from reaching the groundwater and outside environment.  While this would be of no consolation to the 1.2 million tons of soil already in need of remediation, it could help to prevent the situation from worsening and ultimately the cost of constructing the initial range could prove to be cheaper than the cost to continually remediate it in the future.


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