Petroleum spills are complex pollutants with a mixture of chemical compounds and physical oil. The Thermal desorption process of petroleum spills, heats the contaminated soil to volatilize water and organic contaminants to degrade different oil components into less harmful substances.
Zach Bartsch, a soil scientist with Stantec in Fargo, North Dakota, and the study’s lead author, says soil reclamation is aimed at restoring disturbed landscapes and ecosystems to healthy, sustainable conditions. “This ecosystem repair wouldn’t be complete without repairing soil biology, which extends to soil microbial communities.”
Study participants evaluated the effects of thermal desorption and land-farming on microbe recovery in contaminated soils. It is common in land farming to excavate contaminated soils and then spread them over a large area of ground. The natural dissipation and degradation of petroleum contaminants are allowed over time.
Soils tended to recover microbes similarly when treated with thermal desorption or by land farming. “After four years of crop production, neither of the methods hindered the recovery of microbial communities or abundances,” Zach Bartsch says. Our experimental results demonstrate that soils can be treated by thermal desorption to recover biologically.