For decades, the remediation of complex sites has presented significant technical challenges, resulting in failed or insufficient remedies, cost and schedule overruns, and other unmet expectations. Along the way, the remediation industry has made significant technological advancements in the fields of contaminant treatment, chemical and molecular analysis, site characterization, mathematical modeling and data visualization.

Despite these developments, many complex sites — those characterized by heterogeneous subsurface conditions, complex hydrology/hydrogeology, challenging combinations of contaminants and other site-specific challenges — remain difficult to remediate within a predictable time frame and budget, creating ongoing risks and financial burdens. Even with such technological advancements, a new approach is needed to bring certainty and predictability to complex site remediation.

PROGRESS — Progressive Remediation Strategies — answers the environmental industry’s need for a new approach to remediating complex sites. This integrated process represents a paradigm shift in the methodologies used to develop and implement remedies for complex sites. It places the proper emphasis on the site geologic model and builds a data-driven conceptual site model (CSM) that accurately quantifies the processes that control contaminant behavior and drive remediation performance. This results in well-informed design decisions and more focused, cost-effective remedies that deliver predictable results.

The PROGRESS approach is built around a process-based CSM — a centralized hub of site-specific information that is updated and analyzed to inform each step of the remediation process. This CSM reaches beyond the conventional, descriptive understanding of site conditions, contaminant distribution and receptor exposure routes. It uses advanced analysis of site data to identify and quantify the processes that drive contaminant behavior and remediation success at a given site. When identified early in the project life cycle, data collection and analysis efforts can be properly focused on these critical processes, substantially reducing uncertainties related to cost, time and overall performance. This quantitative, process-based CSM provides the platform needed to develop accurate remedy performance simulations, cleanup time frame projections, and remedial cost estimates, the results of which support critical project decisions such as remedy selection and design.

Once a remedy or combination of remedies has been selected for a site, the process-based CSM provides the inputs needed to develop an optimized design. The design optimization process involves the use of advanced modeling techniques, as appropriate, to test remedy performance and optimization measures. An efficient, iterative remedy performance simulation process is then conducted to optimize the design to meet project-specific goals and reduce cost and duration. During this process, unknown or hidden conditions that could significantly affect the cost and schedule of the remediation project can be identified and addressed through additional site data collection and analysis, laboratory-scale treatability testing, or field-scale pilot testing.

The goal of this process is to design a remedy that will deliver results with the level of certainty around performance, cost and schedule that the client needs. This necessary level of certainty is not the same for every project. For some sites, it may be appropriate to proceed to the remedy implementation phase without achieving optimum certainty for all design parameters or success factors; however, PROGRESS clearly defines these uncertainties to limit their impact. If warranted, contingency measures can be established to implement course corrections related to these uncertainties, should they be required during remedy implementation.

Performance monitoring is a critical element of any remediation project, and a well-executed data collection and evaluation approach is essential to the efficient implementation and optimization of a newly installed remedy. The performance monitoring program must also provide the data needed to confirm the remedy is achieving progress toward cleanup objectives at rate and cost consistent with predictions developed during the design phase of the project. The performance monitoring dataset is integrated into the process-based CSM during the early stages of remedy implementation and the data is evaluated to build confidence in remedy performance. This identifies parameters and criteria needed to gauge future performance and optimize the remedy and monitoring program. This is an advanced method of monitoring that prevents dollars from being wasted on inconsequential data while also providing the information needed to minimize remedy duration and cost. It facilitates successful implementation of targeted, efficient and cost-effective remedies, driving PROGRESS toward site closure.

Attaining Predictable Results

The PROGRESS concept has a core goal to achieve cleanup objectives with improved certainty, lower cost and expedited delivery. Complex sites are characterized by multiple, interrelated variables that compound miscalculations and uncertainties. These complexities, which have historically challenged the remediation industry, have resulted in unrealized performance expectations, as well as cost and schedule overruns. Combining a progressive, process-based site management strategy with advanced technology improves the remediation process from start to finish by delivering focused remediation solutions that leverage the unique characteristics of each site.


This post is one of a series explaining Progressive Remediation Strategies (PROGRESS). Through PROGRESS, predictable results can help achieve objectives with improved certainty, lower cost and expedited delivery. But this is just one component of PROGRESS and its comprehensive, next-generation approach to remediating complex sites.


Sharon Shelton is a project manager and environmental chemist at Burns & McDonnell with experience in environmental chemistry, environmental site assessment and management of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Action (CERCLA) projects from initial site investigation through remedial completion.