Off they go into the wild green yonder: the 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma has just earned the top “Green” rating from the Air Force’s Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health compliance program.
The 97th spent months prepping for its evaluation and earned a “you knocked our socks off” comment from the ESOHCAMP program manager, but that’s not the only sustainability feather in Altus’s cap. The base is also home to one of the Air Force’s premier green remediation sites.
The 97th Air Mobility Wing and ESOHCAMP
A typical Air Force installation involves large amounts of fuel and other potential environmental hazards, so an ESOHCAMP inspection is not a thing to be taken lightly. It’s a management tool that measures a base’s compliance with federal, state, and local environmental regulations. For the 97th, the weeklong inspection process involved examining more than 195 different facilities, conducting 245 interviews, and reviewing more than 1,000 documents.
Green remediation refers to cleaning up toxic waste dumps without creating the huge carbon footprint that comes with excavating tons of soil and trucking it to a landfill. Instead, green remediation keeps the contaminated soil and/or groundwater in place, using cattails and other plants, natural biological reactions, alternative energy, and other sustainable applications to convert the hazardous chemicals to benign substances.
The ALTUS AFB Solar-Powered Cleanup
At Altus, green remediation takes the form of a the first solar-powered bioreactor to address soil contaminated with chlorinated solvents such as trichloroethene and perchloroethene. Four 50-watt photovoltaic panels power a small submersible pump that recirculates contaminated groundwater through a mulch bioreactor. The process involves natural fermentation, which replaces chlorine ions with hydrogen ions. It simply (or not so simply) needs the right kinds of microbes feasting on a sufficient amount of organic carbon, including woody waste from local towns and industrial cotton sources. The pump and solar system have a lifespan of up to 30 years and only cost $2300, so they can be used at other sites when they finish up at Altus.
The Green Future of Toxic Waste Cleanup
More examples of green remediation abound, including the use of small solar-powered fans to vent toxic fumes from homes sitting on contaminated ground, a more sustainable alternative to abandonment and demolition, Solar-powered water circulators are also being used to improve water quality in ponds and lakes without the need to burn fossil fuels for electricity, and the device could also be used in wastewater treatment plants. To complete the circle, researchers are discovering that contaminated soil can be a great place to grow contaminated soil can be a great place for biofuel crops, which remove toxic chemicals from the soil while they grow.
Image: C-17 Globemaster III at Altus Air Force Base by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Brett Clashman, via mashleymorgan on flickr.com.