Managing Contaminated Groundwater

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The Department of Defense is responsible for remediating and protecting the groundwater associated with military installations. Contaminated groundwater is the largest liability in the Defense Environmental Restoration Program. In many cases, groundwater resources have been contaminated with various organic contaminants as a result of a legacy of past usage and disposal. Chemicals used at the ground surface, over time, migrate into groundwater. Once there, such chemicals are difficult to measure and remove.

Thousands of military sites have been identified as contaminated with chlorinated solvents, energetic materials, perchlorate, and other hazardous compounds. All such sites require characterization, remediation and monitoring. SERDP and ESTCP efforts are leading to improved cleanup practices and reduced life-cycle costs.

Since their inception, SERDP and ESTCP have funded research and demonstrations for treatment of contaminated groundwater. Early efforts focused on the development of new technologies for treating contaminated groundwater. Many of these technologies are now used throughout DoD. Recent efforts include the following:

Persistent Contamination

Despite the best treatment approaches, some contamination remains difficult to remove, residing as dense nonaqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) or in difficult-to-treat areas, such as fractured geologic media and low permeable zones. SERDP and ESTCP efforts seek to better understand what causes persistent contamination and which methods are most effective in remediating and monitoring such sites. The aim is to improve how existing technologies are used to treat challenging sites and to establish remediation goals based on science.


Monitoring remains the foundation of groundwater cleanup efforts. Ineffective monitoring results in poor decisions on treatment options and design. Costly and ineffective groundwater compliance monitoring approaches can lead to large long term liabilities for DoD. SERDP and ESTCP efforts focus on improving performance and compliance monitoring needed to design, optimize, and operate treatment systems.

Emerging Issues

Our understanding of the risks posed by groundwater contaminants continuously evolves. As technologies for monitoring contaminants improve, the ability to detect previously unknown threats to groundwater resources improves. As the state of science for toxicology and exposure changes, new pathways, chemicals, and levels of exposures must be assessed. SERDP and ESTCP efforts focus on the fate, transport, and treatment of emerging contaminants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), perchlorate, NDMA, 1,4-dioxane and others. Studies also examine new pathways for human exposure from contaminated groundwater, such as vapor intrusion, with the goal of preventing or mitigating such exposure. Investment in studying emerging issues enables DoD remediation program managers to be prepared to deal with such issues in cost-effective ways.

FY 2020 New Start Project Selections

FY 2020 New Start Project Selections for the Environmental Solicitation – SERDP; ESTCP

Workshop Report:
Management of DoD's Chlorinated Solvents in Groundwater Sites (2018)

Workshop Report:
Vapor Intrusion into Indoor Air from Contaminated Groundwater (2014)
Workshop Report:
Long Term Management of Contaminated Groundwater Sites (2013)
National Academy of Sciences Report:
Alternatives for Managing the Nation's Complex Contaminated Groundwater Sites (2012)
Workshop Report:
Investment Strategies to Optimize Research and Demonstration Impacts in Support of DoD Restoration Goals (2011)
Defense Environmental Restoration Program