The Ultimate Cleanup

At Alameda Naval Air Station, Berkeley, Labs Will Demonstrate Waste-Disposal Technologies

by Robert Sanders

With the August announcement of a 4-year, multi-million dollar contract with the Navy to conduct environmental cleanup projects at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, UC scientists are eager to put a slew of innovative and quick cleanup technologies to work.

These technologies range from steam cleaning the soil to harnessing microbes to detoxify chemical contaminants in soil and groundwater--all ideas generated at Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

The Navy's contract with Berkeley could involve a maximum of $25 million over the next four years to demonstrate the effectiveness of these new techniques and then recommend a plan for base cleanup using the technologies that worked best. With assistance from the University and the two national laboratories, the Navy hopes to get moving on the cleanup before they leave the area.

"If we take a very aggressive approach to this, I have no question we could have some of the sites cleaned by the time the Navy leaves," said Kent Udell, Berkeley professor of mechanical and civil engineering who heads the project. "After up-front treatability studies, we will be able to provide guidance to the Navy on how to get this site cleaned up so they can turn it over to the community."

The major environmental problems the team will address at the 2,800-acre base are an aviation-fuel spill, metal contaminants around former metal plating and paint shops, two landfills totaling more than 100 acres contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), and a variety of other chemical contaminants, from lead to benzene.

Other contractors will clean areas of the base that lend themselves to more conventional cleanup techniques.

Berkeley and the two Department of Energy laboratories were awarded the contract because of their unique new technologies that could provide a quicker and cheaper cleanup. Current techniques available in the private sector for cleaning fuel spills can take many years to clean up a site, Udell said.

"We are trying to tap into the expertise at the University and the national laboratories to make a contribution to the Navy and the taxpayers," he said. "I hope that the front-end studies will lead to more cost-effective ways to do the total cleanup. If we can shave 10 percent off the total cleanup bill that will have been a great investment."

By the end of the year Udell hopes to start drilling steam-injection wells for a pilot study to demonstrate that the thermal technique can clean up the aviation-fuel spill. He hopes to design a complete cleanup plan for the spill by the end of 1996. Bioremediation technologies that use naturally occurring micro-organisms will probably take longer to move from lab bench to field test, he says.

The effort will be coordinated through the new Berkeley Environmental Restoration Center, directed by Udell, which will attempt to bring in both students and other faculty to take advantage of this unique opportunity to study a large-scale cleanup of a military base.

Cleanups are planned around the country as bases are closed and the public clamors for access to the vacated land.

"If we can combine all the environmental restoration expertise at Berkeley, LBL and Livermore into one center, no one in the country will be able to match us in the area of environmental cleanup," Udell said.

The new technologies to be employed at the Alameda Naval Air Station are:

o Injecting steam into the ground to heat and boil off contaminants--in this case aviation fuel, which at the Naval Air Station saturates the ground in one spot down to the water table. The vapors are forced out or sucked out through other wells, and the fuel separated for reuse.

o Encouraging the growth of bacteria in the soil that convert toxic chromium to a form that is less soluble and thus less likely to leach into groundwater. The technique was developed by Bob Buchanan, a professor of plant biology, and Terrance Leighton, a professor of molecular and cell biology.

o A similar approach to ridding the ground of toxic chemicals is a "biological curtain," an idea developed by scientists at LLNL. Scientists will take harmless bacteria grown especially for this purpose and inject them into the ground or a specially-constructed permeable barrier around two landfills at the Alameda site.

o As the team drills wells to inject steam and pump out fuel vapors, Udell hopes to test several new techniques for monitoring and evaluating the process.


Copyright 1994, The Regents of the University of California.
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