The use of activated charcoal might save the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) millions of dollars, if a trial in Missouri goes to plan.

The EPA has spent tens of millions of dollars, according to the Morning Sun, trying to clean up the site of a former chemical plant and the adjacent Pine River in St Louis.

The Velsicol Chemical Company closed in 1978, but has left behind one of the most polluted pieces of land in the US, thanks to its production of DDT, a toxic insecticide that seeped into the land and the river over many years. DDT has since been banned for agricultural use worldwide.

The 52-acre contaminated site has been receiving treatment for years in an attempt to rehabilitate it and the EPA has just gained approval to do a pilot study of carbon-based materials to remove DDT in floodplain soil.

It will test the feasibility of using activated charcoal to reduce bioavailability of soil contaminants.

Soil samples from the area will be taken and analysed to see how much DDT is bioavailable. Then activated charcoal will be spread over the soil with additional samples taken at several intervals over the next year. The DDT remains in the soil but it binds to the carbon and is no longer bioavailable.

If the process works it could save millions of dollars because the floodplain would not require excavation, which would also help save local wildlife.