Rawlings Consulting Forestry, PLLC: Serving forest landowners in North Carolina since 1983
Young hybrid poplars
Rows of hybrid poplars soak up contaminated groundwater at an industrial site near Greenville, North Carolina.


Phytoremediation originates from the ancient Greek word phyton, meaning plant, flora, or vegetation, and the word remedy, meaning to take a corrective action. Phytoremediation is the use of plants to clean the environment, generally the soil or water, by removing the toxins or contaminants that man has purposely released or has allowed to escape.

Phytoremediation is an emerging technology that is a cost-effective and proven strategy for the clean-up and removal of many organic contaminants from both the soil and groundwater. Far cheaper than conventional methods, phytoremediation can be implemented with relatively little environmental disturbance, is effective over large or small areas, and may be designed to be aesthetically pleasing and minimally invasive. Additionally, and as compared to landfilling, phytoremediation is considered a permanent solution to the clean-up and removal of many organic contaminants including the most prevalent, petroleum hydrocarbons, that result from leaking petroleum storage tanks.

Petroleum storage tanks, both above-ground storage tanks (AST) and underground storage tanks (UST), have been prone to leaks, accidental spills, and other incidents since the initial use of petroleum products in the 1800s. Recently, scientist at leading universities as well as independent researchers have developed, documented, tested, and proven specialized phytoremediation methods for the removal of the petroleum hydrocarbons resulting from leaking tanks or accidental spills from both the petroleum-contaminated soil and the petroleum-contaminated groundwater. These methods include the use of selected plants such as common willow trees and specific types of hybridized cottonwood trees referred to as hybrid poplars or Populus deltoids. Special planting techniques are employed that are designed to promote the natural phreatophyte, or deep rooting tendencies, of these trees.

As an emerging technology, the use phytoremediation may require pre-approval from the North Carolina Division of Waste Management (NCDWM) or a comparable agency in your state. The NCDWM is the permitting agency charged with ensuring compliance with all state and federal regulations pertaining to underground storage tanks and the cleanup of UST-related petroleum contamination. If the cleanup has been mandated or if UST cleanup funds are requested, the phytoremediation may require pre-approval from the North Carolina Division of Waste Management.

Rawlings Consulting Forestry, PLLC will design and implement a phytoremediation plan which is site-specific and customized for the maximum removal of petroleum hydrocarbon contaminants from both the soil and groundwater. After the removal or repair of the petroleum contamination source, and utilizing the final comprehensive site assessment as prepared by your environmental consultant or engineer, we will create a detailed map of the ground surface area available for remediation and design a site-specific phytoremediation plan. This plan will include recommendations of the specific plant species, planting densities, and planting techniques necessary to maximize the removal of the petroleum hydrocarbon contaminants. Upon your approval of the plan, Rawlings Consulting Forestry, PLLC will implement the phytoremediation plan in a timely manner.

Phytoremediation services may include:

Phytoremediation may be beneficial for: