U.S. EPA Contaminated Site Cleanup Information (CLU-IN)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. EPA Technology Innovation and Field Services Division



Phytotechnology is broadly defined as the use of vegetation to address contaminants in soil, sediment, surface water, and groundwater. Cleanup objectives for phytotechnologies can be contaminant removal and destruction, control and containment, or both. Phytoremediation (i.e., contaminant removal and destruction) is a phytotechnology subset (ITRC 2009). EPA has developed a fact sheet, Phytotechnologies for Site CleanupAdobe PDF Logo, as well as a layman's discussion of plant-based remediation in A Citizen's Guide to PhytoremediationAdobe PDF Logo, which is also available in a Spanish translationAdobe PDF Logo.

While phytotechnologies generally are applied in situ, ex situ applications (e.g., hydroponics systems) are possible. Typical organic contaminants, such as petroleum hydrocarbons, gas condensates, crude oil, chlorinated compounds, pesticides, and explosive compounds, can be addressed using plant-based methods. Phytotechnologies also can be applied to typical inorganic contaminants, such as heavy metals, metalloids, radioactive materials, and salts (ITRC 2009).

Six major plant mechanisms enable phytotechnologies to remove, destroy, transfer, stabilize, or contain contaminants:

  • Phytoextraction
  • Phytodegradation
  • Phytovolatilization
  • Rhizodegradation
  • Phytosequestration
  • Phytohydraulics

Additional information specific to uses of plants for soil and groundwater cleanup, and constructed wetlands is available in the Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable's Remediation Technologies Screening Matrix and Reference Guide.

Adobe PDF LogoITRC (Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council). 2009. Phytotechnology
Technical and Regulatory Guidance and Decision Trees, Revised
. Phyto-3

Adobe PDF LogoUSEPA. 2006. In Situ Treatment Technologies for Contaminated Soil: Engineering Forum Issue Paper. EPA 542-F-06-013.


Adobe PDF LogoA Citizen's Guide to Phytoremediation
EPA 542-F-12-016, 2012

The Citizen's Guide series summarize cleanup methods used at Superfund and other sites. Each two-page fact sheet answers six questions about the cleanup method: 1) What is it? 2) How does it work? 3) How long will it take? 4) Is it safe? 5) How might it affect me? and 6) Why use it?

Environmental Cleanup Using Plants: Biotechnological Advances and Ecological Considerations
Pilon-Smits, E.A.H., and J. L., Freeman.
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 4:203210, 2006.

In this review, the authors provide an overview of phytoremediation methods and their associated biological processes, and discuss approaches that have been used successfully to breed transgenic plants with advanced phytoremediation properties. They further discuss potential ecological implications of phytoremediation processes (and transgenics) and future research needs and directions. Longer Abstract.

Handbook of Phytoremediation
Golubev, I.A. (ed.).
Nova Science Publishers, ISBN: 978-1-61728-753-4, 815 pp, 2011

This handbook presents work from around the globe in the study of phytoremediation. It highlights the application of phytoremediation technologies for water decontamination from persistent organic pollutants; phytoremediation of uranium-contaminated soils; phytoremediation using constructed mangrove wetlands; the phytoextraction capability of maize and sunflowers; and the phytoremediative processes occurring in salt marshes. Chapter abstracts

Adobe PDF LogoIntroduction to Phytoremediation
EPA 600-R-99-107, 2000

This introduction is designed to help site regulators, owners, neighbors, and managers to evaluate the applicability of phytoremediation to a site. This document is a compilation of research and remediation work that defines terms and provides a framework to understand phytoremediation applications. See also the 2001 summaryAdobe PDF Logo of this report.

Introduction to Phytoremediation of Contaminated Groundwater: Historical Foundation, Hydrologic Control, and Contaminant Remediation
Landmeyer, J.E.
Springer, New York. ISBN: 978-94-007-1956-9, 436 pp, 2012

This book provides a comprehensive review designed to aid in the understanding and critical evaluation of phytoremediation design, implementation, and monitoring at contaminated groundwater sites. The concepts are emphasized with numerous case studies, illustrations, and pertinent literature citations. Table of contents and individual chapter abstracts.

D. Tsao (ed.).
Springer, New York. ISBN: 978-3-540-43385-9, 206 pp, 2003

This volume contains discussions of soil/plant microbe interactions in phytoremediation, a field assessment of the effect of plants on petroleum degradation in soil, phyoextraction of heavy metals from soil, hydraulic control of groundwater using deep-rooted tree systems, and vegetative covers for waste containment. Table of Contents

Phytoremediation: Transformation and Control of Contaminants
S.C. McCutcheon and J.L. Schnoor.
J. Wiley, New York. ISBN: 9780471273042, 987 pp, 2003

This comprehensive book details phytoremediation all levels, from basic molecular and biochemical processes to practical considerations in field applications. The first of 7 sections contains detailed descriptions of all fields of phytoremediation and their state of development. Plant/contaminant interactions are discussed in the Section 2, covering mechanisms by which contaminants are degraded, plant tolerance, root architecture, and determination of tree water use. Sections 3, 4, and 5 present the degradation mechanisms, volatilization, and hydraulic control of different contaminant classes. Section 6 covers practical aspects of implementing phytotechnology. Section 7 outlines some of the latest advances of phytoremediation with discussions of atmospheric pollutants, MTBE, cyanide, and perchlorate. The text also describes plant and microbe database tools that can be used to assist selection of suitable organisms and offers case studies of phytoremediation in the field. Table of Contents

Adobe PDF LogoPhytotechnologies for Site Cleanup
EPA 542-F-10-009, 2010

Phytotechnologies are a set of techniques that make use of plants to achieve environmental goals. These techniques use plants to extract, degrade, contain, or immobilize pollutants in soil, groundwater, surface water, and other contaminated media. This fact sheet provides information that will help you evaluate whether phytotechnologies will work your site, summarizes the applications of phytotechnologies for various contaminants, and includes links to additional sources of information.

Phytotechnology Project Profiles Database

Over 165 projects encompassing international, completed, and ongoing phytotechnology applications have been found in the literature and documented in this database. Each profile contains information about relevant site background, the types of contaminants treated, type of vegetation used, phytotechnology mechanisms, planting date, project size, location, cost, monitoring and performance results, as well as points of contact and references.

Adobe PDF LogoPhytotechnology Technical and Regulatory Guidance and Decision Trees, Revised
Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council (ITRC) Phytotechnologies Team.
PHYTO-3, 187 pp, 2009

This document is an update to Phytoremediation Decision Tree (PHYTO-1 1999) and Phytotechnology Technical and Regulatory Guidance Document (PHYTO-2 2001) and replaces the previous documents entirely. It merges the concepts of both previous documents and includes new and practical information on the process and protocol for selecting and applying various phytotechnologies as remedial alternatives. The technical descriptions of phytotechnologies in this document concentrate on the functioning mechanisms: phytosequestration, rhizodegradation, phytohydraulics, phytoextraction, phytodegradation, and phytovolatilization. Decision trees (Remedy Selection, Groundwater, Soil/Sediment, and Riparian Zone) help guide the user through the application of phytotechnologies to a remediation project.