Remediation techniques for heavy metal-contaminated soils: Principles and applicability

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Science of The Total Environment

Publication Date


Date Added



Globally there are over 20 million ha of land contaminated by the heavy metal(loid)s As, Cd, Cr, Hg, Pb, Co, Cu, Ni, Zn, and Se, with the present soil concentrations higher than the geo-baseline or regulatory levels. In-situ and ex-situ remediation techniques have been developed to rectify the heavy metal-contaminated sites, including surface capping, encapsulation, landfilling, soil flushing, soil washing, electrokinetic extraction, stabilization, solidification, vitrification, phytoremediation, and bioremediation. These remediation techniques employ containment, extraction/removal, and immobilization mechanisms to reduce the contamination effects through physical, chemical, biological, electrical, and thermal remedy processes. These techniques demonstrate specific advantages, disadvantages, and applicability. In general, in-situ soil remediation is more cost-effective than ex-situ treatment, and contaminant removal/extraction is more favorable than immobilization and containment. Among the available soil remediation techniques, electrokinetic extraction, chemical stabilization, and phytoremediation are at the development stage, while the others have been practiced at full, field scales. Comprehensive assessment indicates that chemical stabilization serves as a temporary soil remediation technique, phytoremediation needs improvement in efficiency, surface capping and landfilling are applicable to small, serious-contamination sites, while solidification and vitrification are the last remediation option. The cost and duration of soil remediation are technique-dependent and site-specific, up to $500 ton−1 soil (or $1500 m−3 soil or $100 m−2 land) and 15 years. Treatability studies are crucial to selecting feasible techniques for a soil remediation project, with considerations of the type and degree of contamination, remediation goals, site characteristics, cost effectiveness, implementation time, and public acceptability.






Environmental Sciences