The Complete Guide to Disposing of Contaminated Soil

Do you need to remove contaminated soil from your property? If so, this article will explain how to dispose of it safely.

Hire a professional company

Ideally, you’ll want to hire a professional waste treatment company to remove contaminated soil, which will ensure the soil gets properly treated at a facility. If you hire a random company or person, the materials might only be discarded where they will pose a danger to the environment, animals, and people.

disposal of contaminated soil

Proper contaminated soil disposal requires reputable industrial treatment facilities that use EPA-approved treatment processes, including chemical fixation, bioremediation, chemical oxidation, and absorption.

Soil can be treated in four different ways:

  • Excavation. Contaminated soil is removed from the ground. New topsoil is tested and distributed where the old soil has been removed.
  • Treatment. Here, the soil is treated in the ground where it is. There are various methods of extracting contaminants without removing the soil.
  • Containment. When soil can’t be removed or treated in place, it may be contained within some kind of barrier (such as a silt fence) that prevents it from spreading.
  • Blending. Depending on the level of contamination, sometimes good soil is blended with contaminated soil to reduce the concentration of harmful chemicals to a safer degree.

Some treatment plants also focus primarily on sustainability to limit the environmental impact of their services.

What contaminants make soil dangerous?

A variety of contaminants can make soil dangerous. Some of the most common one found in soils all over the world include:

  • Oil and grease
  • Asbestos
  • Adhesives, glues, resins, and latex
  • Laboratory chemicals
  • Filter cake
  • PFAS contaminants
  • Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
  • Surfactants and detergents
  • Spent catalysts
  • Coolants and cutting fluids
  • Hydrocarbon contamination
  • Paints, inks, and dyes
  • Rags and absorbents
  • Heavy metals
  • Acid sulphate
  • Solvents and flammable waste
  • Contaminated sludge and slurries
  • Acids
  • Industrial wash waters
  • Dredge spoil

All of these contaminants can turn regular soil into hazardous waste.

Treat contaminated soil as hazardous waste

Soil contamination is considered hazardous waste and needs to be professionally removed and treated right away. Contaminated soil can become a major problem if you don’t take care of it quickly.

When left in place, contaminated soil can leach toxic chemicals into the ground and surface waters. The contamination may make its way into nearby rivers, streams, lakes, and drinking water supplies.

According to the EPA, contaminated soil can also affect indoor air quality and may be spread further as dust. In the water, contaminants accumulate in sediments that end up harming local ecosystems, wildlife, and humans.

If you don’t handle the problem, you could face lawsuits later on if future damage and harms can be traced back to the soil when you were responsible for it.

You will likely need a permit to remove contaminated soil

In many regions, you will have to obtain proper permits from your state’s environmental agency to remove hazardous soil.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set specific guidelines for removal of contaminants from soil at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and other hazardous waste facilities.

These guidelines can be helpful in understanding why you need a professional to do the job. If you’re facing the onerous task of taking care of contaminated soil, it’s not likely to be a DIY job.

Contaminated soil can come from anywhere

You may not even know you have contaminated soil on your property. You might order tons of good, clean soil for purchase and have hazardous waste delivered instead. That’s what happened to a couple in Kentucky.

David and Cindy Bell ordered thousands of tons of fill dirt and rock to level their property in preparation for building a garden and campground. They found a company willing to deliver the dirt for free.

Unfortunately, the company delivered contaminated black soil and sand removed from an industrial work site. When tests were run, the soil samples contained excessive levels of certain contaminants, including heavy metals and carcinogens.

how to remove remove contaminated soil

Even though it wasn’t their fault, the state issued the Bells a Notice of Violation that required the couple to install a special fence to prevent the contaminated soil from leaching into the Ohio River.

Test your soil regularly, especially if you grow food

You should test your soil regularly to make sure it’s not hazardous to the Earth, humans, or animals. If you discover you have contaminated soil on your property and there are farms nearby, for example, there’s a chance that farmland can become contaminated and you might be held liable for damages.

If you learn you have contaminated soil, don’t wait to get it cleaned up. Act quickly, because the effects can be far-reaching. Regular testing is the only way to know what’s going on with your soil.