Phytoremediation is the use of certain plants to clean up soil, sediment, and water contaminated with metals and/or organic contaminants such as crude oil, solvents, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). It is a name for the expansion of an old process that occurs naturally in ecosystems as both inorganic and organic constituents cycle through plants. Plant physiology, agronomy, microbiology, hydrogeology, and engineering are combined to select the proper plant and conditions for a specific site. Phytoremediation is an aesthetically pleasing mechanism that can reduce remedial costs, restore habitat, and clean up contamination in place rather than entombing it in place or transporting the problem to another site.
Phytoremediation can be used to clean up contamination in several ways:
Phytoremediation can be used in combination with other traditional and innovative remediation technologies. Cleanup can be accomplished to depths within the reach of plants' roots. Sites need to be maintained (watered, fertilized, and monitored) and results are slower (3+ years) than mechanical excavation methods. "Attractive nuisance" and food chain issues must be considered at each site and care taken to avoid unwanted exposure of wildlife. Cost savings compared to traditional remediation can range from 20 to 80 percent.