The Air Force is conducting a pilot test on groundwater contaminated by a decadeslong jet fuel leak in hopes naturally occurring bacteria can join the fight against toxic chemicals.
The ethylene dibromide (EDB) in-situ bioremediation pilot test being performed near the source of the leak on Kirtland Air Force Base involves pumping groundwater up and adding sugar that will serve as food for bacteria – potentially increasing their activity and encouraging them to gobble up more EDB – then injecting it back underground.
EDB is a toxic chemical once found in jet fuel.
“It’s like giving performance-enhancing drugs to an athlete,” said Brian Reneghan of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at the Nov. 14 public meeting on the fuel leak.
The pilot test began in October.
In December, nutrients – sodium lactate, diammonium phosphate and yeast extract – will be introduced to the water before it is returned, when they hope bacteria activity will be stimulated.
Researchers will monitor EDB and other fuel constituent levels for three months.
If the project isn’t progressing as well as hoped, additional “food” and bacteria will be added.
Diane Agnew of the New Mexico Environment Department said the microorganisms that would be introduced are already present in the soil.
“It will not be anyone new, it will just be getting more of those players on the field,” she said.
While the project will focus on levels of EDB, Agnew said the bacteria may also feed on other chemicals in the fuel, such as benzene.
The bacteria’s carbon-based waste is harmless and once the food source is gone, they’ll disappear as well.
Kathryn Lynnes, the Air Force’s senior adviser on the remediation, said the process worked extremely well in a lab.