Environmental Restoration Program works to remedy past contaminations

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brigitte Brantley
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
Before an environmental act was passed in 1980, there was no law in place to hold organizations accountable for the contamination they had caused.

The passing of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, forced organizations to become responsible for, and clean up, any sites they had contaminated.

Moody's Environmental Restoration Program, which is managed by the 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron's Asset Management Flight, began in 1983. A records search in 1983 helped determine what places might have been used as a dumping site for hazardous materials or other contaminants and 42 sites were listed as areas of concern. After further investigations, it was determined only 12 of those sites would require remediation.

Seven of the 12 sites are scheduled to be completely closed out by 2013. The remaining five sites are larger and more complex and will continue to be monitored for at least the next 10 years.

There are two types of technologies being used at Moody to help eliminate contamination at the sites. The first is known as in-situ enhanced bioremediation.

"Bioremediation is a process that occurs underground and does not disturb the soil or the groundwater," said Lori Burnam, 23rd CES environmental restoration program manager. "We rely on chemical, biological and physical processes that happen to either naturally or artificially break down the contaminants.

"To accomplish this artificially, we insert lactate or vegetable oil into the contaminated area," she added. "This acts as a food source that stimulates the activity and growth of naturally-occurring microbes which help to break down the contaminant."

Following in-situ enhanced bioremediation, the second process, pump-and-treat technology, is more physically involved.

"With this technology, we actually remove the groundwater by pumping it out and treating it," Ms. Burnam said. "One of the ways we treat it is to extract the contaminated groundwater and then filter it through carbon to remove the contaminants."

The clean water is then pumped back into a storm drain on base.

"This program helps protect human health and the environment as well as restore areas where toxic and hazardous substances were dumped in the past," said Ms. Burnam.

In addition to adhering to CERCLA standards, the ERP must also follow guidelines set forth by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Toxic Substance Control Act, as well as state laws.

"The ERP follows all these laws as well as continually working with several state agencies," said Gregory Lee, 23rd CES natural resources element chief. "We are always coordinating with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to ensure we are complying with their regulations,"

The Air Force's goal is to have what is known as a "Remedy in Place" at all sites by 2012, but Moody reached this goal three years ahead of schedule.

"Remedy in Place means that you must have the technology used to remediate the contamination on site," Ms. Burnam said. "Moody met this RIP goal for 11 of the 12 sites by 2007, so we exceeded the Air Force goal. The single site that didn't meet this goal was discovered in 2005 during the suppression of a wildfire.

"While individuals were working to put out the fire, multiple 55-gallon drums and metal buckets, suspected of originally containing paint, pesticides and fuel, were found," she added. "After undergoing investigations in which soil and groundwater were sampled and more than 740 tons of contaminated soil including asbestos and debris were removed, it ultimately reached RIP in August 2009, still three years ahead of the Air Force's goal."

Although there are areas with contaminated groundwater beneath the surface, it does not affect the base's drinking water, said Ms. Burnam.

"The contaminated water is located between 45 to 75 feet below ground surface while the water we consume comes from below 400 feet," she said. "At 80 to 100 feet below the ground, there is an impermeable clay layer that prevents any contaminant from filtering down to the drinking water source."

None of the processes used to remove contaminants from the ground interrupt work from being done around base.

"Although there are contaminated areas underneath locations where Team Moody is working, we find solutions to the problems that minimize the effect on the people above," said Mr. Lee. "We are here to help accomplish the mission in an environmentally-safe manner and find alternate ways to deal with these locations."

"Currently, Air Force personnel and equipment are occupying the land, but it really belongs to the United States and its citizens," Mr. Lee added. "We are here to act as stewards to ensure it is properly maintained and that no further damage is caused, while at the same time fixing what has been contaminated. Our goal is to leave it in a more pristine state than when we found it for our children and grandchildren."