The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Permeable Reactive Barriers - Introduction


The definition of a Permeable Reactive Barrier (PRB) by the EPA is:

“An emplacement of reactive media in the subsurface designed to intercept a contaminant plume, provide a flow path through the reactive media, and transform the contaminant(s) into environmentally acceptable forms to attain remediation concentration goals down-gradient of the barrier.” (Thiruvenkatachari, Vigneswaran, & Naidu, 2008)

Figure 1 permeable-reactive-barrier

Figure 1: Basic layout design of a PRB within a contamination plume. (University of Newcastle Australia, 2012)


The PRB was first implemented in 1991 as an alternative to the conventional pump and treat method. (Olson & Higgens, 2009) The layout design of the permeable reactive barriers can vary depending on the contaminant plume that requires remediation techniques. There are multiple variations of permeable reactive barriers; the two types covered in this project are: trench/continuous wall and funnel and gate. According to US EPA survey in 2002, 30% of PRBs use continuous trench and 30% use funnel and gate, with the rest being less common methods. (Olson & Higgens, 2009)

The reactive media used in the PRB will vary depending on the reactive qualities of the contamination plume. The most common reactive medium is Zero Valence Iron (ZVI), representing approximately 55% of the PRB installations in 2002. (Olson & Higgens, 2009) This project covers the usage of ZVI, as well as Granular Activated Carbon (GAC), Limestone and Oxygen-Releasing Compounds (ORC) and their use as reported in various case studies.

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