Industrialization, urbanization and unsustainable agriculture practices, among others, contribute to massive desertification and soil contamination. Today, two billion hectares of land are degraded, driving species to extinction, impacting 3.2 billion people’s lives and having a direct impact on climate change. To achieve a land degradation-neutral world, goal 15 aims to combat desertification and restore degraded land and soil.
“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Former President of the United States of America.
Degraded land impacts: almost half of the world’s population (7.8 billion)
At Veolia Water Technologies, our experience within soil and groundwater remediation started in the early 1980s when we started designing and operating remediation systems. Today we have provided remediation solutions to more than 100 customers in 10 countries to save their soils.
Treating soil contamination from the Vietnam War
For more than ten years, the American armed forces sprayed 80 million liters of a powerful defoliant, known as Agent Orange, on Vietnamese soil.
This herbicidal warfare destroyed forests and plantations and the consequences of this long-outlasted the war, as the defoliant entered the water cycle and food chain, and ultimately peoples' bodies.
To counteract this, in 2012, the Vietnam Ministry of Defense and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a project to treat 87,000 m3 of soil and sediment at Da Nang airport. This is an ex-military airbase and hot-spot for dioxin pollution because the U.S. used it for storage and handling of the chemical.
The American company, TerraTherm (later part of Cascade), teamed up with us to use the best technology capable of meeting the cleanup standards. The process called remediation heats the soil to 335°C (635°F) for several months so the dioxins vaporize or degrade and become available for extraction and treatment.
Choosing in-pile thermal desorption, achieved the best performance with the lowest environmental impact in only 20 months. And, once remediated, this regenerated and safe soil was placed back in the environment.
Since the dioxins persisted in the environment they infected millions of people in Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian border areas causing health problems. Today, the fourth generation still suffers from the effects of this pollution.
A pile of excavated soil 100 meters long, 70 meters wide and 8 meters high was treated, and the whole procedure was carried out twice.
“Our thermal remediation project approach was evaluated by USAID to give the lowest potential impact on human health and the environment” — Maiken Faurbye, Manager for soil remediation, Krüger, a Veolia Water Technologies’ subsidiary.
Helping to protect the environment as part of the biggest mine clean up in the world
Faro is a town in the center of Yukon, Canada, known for its vast wilderness. It was also home to the largest open pit lead-zinc mine in the world — 25 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of the city of Victoria, British Columbia.
In 1998, the mine was abandoned by the owners leaving the Canadian government with what was to become one of the most complex remediation projects, ever.
During the mine’s operations (1969 to 1998), its processes left behind waste rock and finely crushed particles, known as tailings, which proved to be highly acidic.
This caused a significant purification challenge as the tailings were contaminating water.
To minimize the risk of discharging untreated water into the Pelly River, the team used water clarification processes to remove acidity, dissolved metals (mostly zinc, iron and manganese) and suspended solids. This ensured the water met Federal regulations before it was released into the environment.
Acid leaching posed a large environmental risk to the surrounding land and water and so a $1 billion CAD clean up spanning 40 to 50 years started.
More performance, less risk
Global awareness of food quality grows, leading farmers to seek more sustainable solutions. Potassium sulfate (SOP) is a certified fertilizer for organic agriculture that is increasingly in demand for its distinct advantages: it has a substantially lower chloride content and provides plant-available sulfur, essential for some crops.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the demand for such fertilizers thrives thanks to the expansion of micro-irrigated, green-house grown horticulture. The Australian company, Salt Lake Potash Ltd., enlisted our team to develop the Lake Way potash mining project to produce SOP from dry salt lake deposits using solar evaporation to concentrate the hypersaline, potassium-rich brines for salt harvesting.
To process these solids, our team designed and supplied two evaporation and crystallization technologies: one to grow 32 tons of high-purity potassium sulfate crystals every hour, the other to recycle 54 tons per hour of solids to yield the maximum potassium recovery.
Focusing on enhancing environmental sustainability as well as energy and resource efficiencies, our tailored technologies growing fully-soluble crystals, help global fertilizer producers to optimize their recovery operations.
245,000 tons of SOP will be produced per year — which is heavier than the weight of Sydney Opera House.
“Based on test work, which confirmed the process viability, our crystallizer technology will help the flagship Lake Way project set the industry benchmark in producing high-grade SOP.” — Jim Brown, CEO of Veolia Water Technologies Americas.
Blue Gold, inspiring, real-life stories about the Sustainable Development Goals in action
Listen now to the episode dedicated to Goal 15.
We visit two places where we have helped undo environmental damage such as purifying untreated water from an abandoned open-pit mine in Canada, and removing Agent Orange from soils in Vietnam.
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with English subtitles and on all major podcast platforms.
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Since September 2015, when all United Nations member states adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, our collective global progress has been slow.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has called for a decade of action to ensure we meet the global targets we set ourselves.
We all need to take responsibility and act today — not tomorrow — to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.