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Warning Signs Of Contaminated Soil On Your Property

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Soil has been called our life support system. Without it, human life would be almost impossible. But for most of us, our interest probably starts and ends with wanting to have an attractive backyard!

Contaminated soil can make it more difficult to achieve the healthy lawns and plants we all love to see thriving in our yards. And some types of contamination can affect the groundwater, with health implications for people in the local area. It’s also not safe to work with contaminated soil as it can make you sick.

There are signs of contaminated soil you should be aware of so that you can address anything that stands between you and the yard of your dreams.

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to look out for and how you can go about fixing contaminated soil.

Signs of Contaminated Soil

Several contaminants can get into the soil and make it unsafe to plant and human life. Some of them are more obvious than others. If you have any of these five signs, it’s wise to call a soil remediation company in for an assessment.

Contaminated Land Public Record

When you buy a house, your attorney should check if there is any public record that your home sits on contaminated land. 

This could be due to the former use of the land or neighboring lots. For example, houses built on land in former mining areas can be contaminated with by-products of that industry. Or it may be on record that the land was formerly contaminated by breached septic systems or oil tanks.

If you’re not sure whether your Portland home has a contaminated land record, you can check on the City of Portland’s online databases.

There are two separate checks to make. First, check the Environmental Cleanup Site Information (ECSI) database. Then check the Leaking Underground Storage Tank database. You can also check any information held by the EPA using their MyProperty service.

This will help you to identify contaminants that might be present on your lot or have leached in from surrounding areas. That will help you to know what you are dealing with.

Soil Erosion

Plants are a crucial part of the soil care puzzle. Their roots help to hold it in place and prevent it from eroding. When plants cannot thrive due to contamination, they die off and they can’t protect the soil any longer.

You may find that dead patches emerge in your garden. As the rain falls and the wind blows, you may get uneven dips and even holes where the soil has washed or blown away. This could be a sign that plant life can’t live there because of contamination going on underground.

No Wildlife or Plant Growth

Plants can be very particular about their growing conditions at the best of times. If there are contaminants in the soil you’ll notice that plants simply wither and die, no matter what you do.

The contaminated ground also will not support animal life. Normally, the ground teems with worms and bugs that in turn attract predators such as birds. But if the worms get contaminated, it will have an impact on the bird life.

Predators will sense that something is off in this area and give it a wide berth. In time, you’ll have dead patches of ground that can’t support either plant or animal life. 

Unpleasant Odor

A bad smell coming from the ground can be a sign of contamination. For example, if heating oil is leaching into the ground, you’ll be able to smell that distinctive petrochemical aroma. If you notice other strong, chemical smells you should investigate them.

But other contaminants, such as lead, give off no smell at all. So the presence or lack of smell coming from the ground is not always a reliable indicator of whether it is contaminated or not. 

Discolored Soil

You may notice that patches of soil are a different color or even a different texture from the rest. They could be darker or lighter or may have a slimy or oily appearance. 

Approaches to Cleaning Contaminated Soil

The good news is that contaminated soil remediation can fix your contaminated soil. 

First, you need to call in a company that specializes in soil remediation to conduct a thorough assessment. Soil testing can identify leaking oil tanks and other contaminants. The company will then recommend the right approach for cleaning the contaminated soil. 

Thermal Remediation

Thermal remediation involves heating the soil – effectively baking it – to evaporate contaminants. The crew put the soil on a conveyor which takes it through an oven. This captures and removes the contaminants.

The soil is then tested to check it’s safe to recycle.


Encapsulation doesn’t remove the contaminants from the soil, but it mixes them with another substance. This could be concrete, cement, or lime and it stops the contamination from spreading to other areas or into the groundwater.

Air Sparging

Air sparging removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the soil using pressurized air. It is an alternative that is used when carbon filtering is not suitable.


Bioremediation works by introducing adapted aerobic and anaerobic bacteria into the soil. Over time, these bacteria break down the contaminants into harmless substances, rendering the soil safe.

Choose Alpha Environmental for Contaminated Soil Remediation

If you’ve noticed any of these signs of contaminated soil, don’t delay in giving your yard the care it needs. 

Call Alpha Environmental, the Portland soil remediation experts. Our team will assess the extent of the problem and recommend the best course of action. 

Click here to learn more about our soil and groundwater remediation services and call us at (503) 292-5346 to schedule an inspection. 

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Lake Oswego, OR
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Beaverton, OR
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