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Fuel Spill Cleanup Quickens

Fuel Spill Cleanup Quickens

The pilot project will shoot nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and sugars — into the ground to feed the microorganisms and give them the energy to eat more EDB.

glass of waterThe Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill cleanup effort is gaining momentum. By the end of the year, two more extraction wells will be operational, bringing to three the number of wells that will be pumping contaminated groundwater and sending it to a treatment facility.

In addition, the U.S. Air Force is preparing to launch a year-long pilot project to see if microorganisms in the soil can be coaxed to eat more of the contaminates in the fuel spill itself.

That project is expected to be approved and built in the fall and be operational in the spring, Adria Bodour, a scientist with the Air Force’s Civil Engineer Center who is leading the Kirtland cleanup effort, said Thursday night during an informational meeting on the cleanup effort.

Right now, the main culprit in the fuel spill is ethylene dibromide, an aviation fuel additive that is leaching into the groundwater from the fuel spill itself. It is the plume of dissolved EDB that has generally been moving toward city drinking water wells in the Southeast Heights and that has concerned water experts and area residents.

Microorganisms already in the ground are eating EDB from the estimated 24 million gallons of fuel that has leaked into the aquifer, but not at a fast enough rate for Bodour and her team. So the pilot project will shoot nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus and sugars—into the ground to feed the microorganisms and give them the energy to eat more EDB, Bodour said.

“We believe the bugs own there are already doing their job, but we need to give them the right nutrients. We are very excited about this,” Bodour said.

If the pilot project succeeds in getting the microbes to eat more of the EDB from the fuel itself, it will reduce the leaching of the contaminant into the ground water, halt the growth of the EDB plume and give the Air Force another tool in its cleanup effort, Bodour said. The EDB plume is estimated to be 6,500 feet long and 1,500 feet wide.

Bodour and officials of the New Mexico Environment Department said it appears that the plume isn’t moving directly toward two city drinking wells in the Ridgecrest well field. They believe the plume is following an ancient underground channel that runs roughly parallel to Louisiana Boulevard. They reiterated a claim they have made since late last year: Not a drop of contaminated water will reach city drinking water wells.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is preparing to drill two more extraction wells to support the one extraction well that began pumping contaminated water out of the ground in June. Those wells will be drilled in September and are expected to be operational by the end of the year, the officials said.

So far, the Air Force has pumped 1.1 million gallons of contaminated water from the ground and treated it. The treated water is being used to water a golf course in the air force base.

— Dennis Domrzalski

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Albuquerque’s definitive alternative newspaper publishing an inquisitive, modern approach to the news and entertainment stories that matter most to New Mexicans. ABQ Free Press’ fresh voice speaks to insightful and involved professionals who care deeply about our community.
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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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