Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Inter-Agency Group Uses Chemical Eating Bugs to Aid in Clean-up at Site in Richmond

Listen to the full audio here.

Bio Remediation at Defense Supply Center Richmond
(Photo Courtesy of DLA Aviation Public Affairs)

The Defense Supply Center Richmond, located off of Jefferson Davis Highway,
has been undergoing a major clean-up for over two decades. This area has been affected by severe groundwater and soil contamination dating back to the 1940s.

The contamination is due to years of industrial operations and from chemicals used during the time the site served as a firefighting training facility about fifty years ago. The multi-tiered plans for cleaning up are developed by an inter-agency group, lead by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in support of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

At the present time the DSCR houses DLA Aviation. Amy Clement, the Chief of Public Affairs at the site, explained the distinction.

She said, “In general - America’s Combat Support Agency, here in Richmond we are DLA, Defense Logistics Agency Aviation, meaning we are responsible for procurement of the aviation for the Department of Defense.”

Jimmy Parrish from the DLA Installation Support's Environmental Office in Richmond said his branch sees themselves as the landlords of the installation and they aim to keep the site safe and clean for the employees.

“Back in 1960s and 70s we just didn’t know as much as we know now with regards to the impact that certain chemicals or certain things have on the environment,” he said. “Now that we know that, we are able to do more about cleaning it up."

Parrish said in years past they had implemented mechanical clean-up processes that proved to be unpractical and also very expensive.

“You have these situations, and you have the challenges of groundwater contamination, and you have all these technical options you’re pursuing, and in the end round, as good as those options are, it’s just Mother Nature,” he said. “If we stir em’ up a bit, not physically, but just get them excited then mother nature will do her job better than what any machine or technology can do for us here.”

Steven Edlavitch, Environmental Engineer with the DLA, said the technique they are using is called bio remediation. They use native microbes, called in-situ, to help reduce contamination. He said these techniques are popular today and being adjusted to be the most effective considering their specific site conditions.

“The bugs are similar to like the microbes, the paramecium, you might have seen it under a microscope in fourth grade science class, and they’re everywhere, and they are ubiquitous in the environment,” he said. “It’s just that when we provide a food substrate to them, like what we use is edible oil, or soybean oil, they can use that food to create energy and reactions which reduces the contaminant concentration.”

Edlavitch said many Military installations have similar pasts environmental protections regulations were not as strong, which resulted in contamination issues in part by industrial operations.

“So now we are charged with reducing risks and protection of the environment from those sites,” he said.

James Cutler is the Remediation Project Manager in the Federal Facilities Division for the State Department of Environmental Quality. He said his group assists with clean-up for Department of Defense mostly at Army, Navy, and Air Force bases.

“Basically a state version of the EPA, people are familiar with that, protecting the environment, we deal in general with permits, look at the at air, water, and waste,” he said.

He said as a part of the federal facilities frame work he represents Virginia's interest in the process by considering state laws and state resources while complying with general EPA guidelines for a Superfund Site.

“One of the resources that we are protecting in Virginia is groundwater, and protecting it to what we call the maximum beneficial use, which would be drinking water,” he said. “So then our standards in Virginia would go to drinking water standards as a cleanup level, whereas different states may have different classifications for groundwater, Virginia doesn't.”

Cutler said he is also involved with Remediation Advisory Board meetings where he has an opportunity to tell the community what’s going on at the site and what he does.

“I did a presentation at one of the meetings, specifically on what does Virginia do, how does Virginia interact with EPA,” he said. “I think that helped out a lot, when you start talking and then they come up to you afterward.”

Ji-Sun Yi, the Remedial Project Manager in the Hazardous Site Cleanup Division for the Federal Facilities Branch of the EPA said it is their mission to be protective of human health and the environment.

“The National Priorities List is basically, a list of sites that are identified that go through a screening process, based on investigation and assessment of this site, where we see it to meet a criteria, where there is significant contamination, and clean-up needed at the federal level,” she said.

Yi said using bio remediation at the Defense Supply Center Richmond has put the time frame for clean-up at a conservatively estimated twenty years, although research is showing it could be sooner than that.

“Especially over the last five or seven years a lot of progress has been made at DSCR in terms of putting clean-up approaches in place at the site, there were thirteen areas that were identified originally that were of concern that were contaminated,” she said. “And we’re down to addressing two of those thirteen, they are concerned more so with cleaning up the groundwater, because the nature of cleaning up groundwater in general takes longer than it would to clean-up contaminated soil.”

Each of the organizations said the partnership is essential in for an effective clean-up and every component is respected as they have a common goal in mind. All of them also expressed excitement in using more natural techniques.

-Sarah A. Freiseis

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