Site remediation can be so costly the price can dissuade development on even the most valuable land for decades. Although it can be argued that the government, state or federal, should bear the costs of this remediation (and by extension the tax payer) the current system of responsibility places the burden on the owner or developer. This system has lead to contentious relationships between cities and developers illustrated by the recent debacle on Tacoma’s waterfront.
The quickest, and most expensive, way to deal with pollutants is through physical intervention such as capping the contaminated soil (as done in Gasworks park) or through excavation and trucking it away. However, the cost of these methods can be so high that this is not a feasible solution, leaving many sites untouched where pollutants leech into ground water unabated. No one should favor this outcome, or rather lack-thereof, while untold environmental damages continue to occur.
A much more cost effective, and visually pleasing, way to deal with contaminants is through phytoremediation. Plants take up contaminants from the ground, thereby healing a site over time. Plant species vary in their survivability and containment uptake. This can be illustrated by the planting of sunflowers in radioactive zones to pull radioactive contaminants out of the soil. This strategy has been implemented in such sites as Chernobyl, Fukushima and other nuclear power plants (like the one above).
This remediation through planting has various benefits including but not limited to: the visual presence of nature (in contrast to bioremediation), habitat, using solar energy instead of fossil fuels, carbon sequestration, little to no maintenance, self propagation, reduced run-off, and low implementation costs (such as live-staking of willows). Despite the drawback that phytoremediation is restricted to sites with contamination as deep as the roots of the plants being used, this method of remediation far outweighs the do-nothing approach which is commonly adopted.
Because of this low cost approach, local government can easily implement this method on all developed and undeveloped polluted sites. Once a site reaches point where it will be developed (or redeveloped), the upfront expenses that the government paid can be recouped via lump sum or a remediation tax (similar to a property tax). With this immediate approach we are able to avoid the shortcoming of, “Phytoremediation takes too long,” that will inevitably otherwise dominate the conversation in a future point in time.