Troops return land to original state

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 Article by Capt Susan Magill, Army News, JTF-Afg Project Number: 11-0508

Kandahar, Afghanistan — Master Corporal Ken Stewart has an important job. The water, fuel and environment technician (WFE tech) is responsible for soil remediation at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) as part of the Mission Transition Task Force (MTTF) working to close down Canadian operations there by the end of the year.

Soil contamination from the daily activities of thousands of Canadian soldiers and hundreds of commercial and tactical vehicles is a major concern. Consequently, mitigation of soil degradation is a priority task for the MTTF, a responsibility being undertaken by a team of WFE techs, field engineers and infantry soldiers.

One foot at a time

Using a common grid system, WFE tech MCpl Oscar Arcadians begins by collecting soil samples from the Canadian compounds at one-foot increments. He then tests the samples for contaminants using a hand-held photo-ionization detector with a linear sensor. The MiniRAE 2000 detector can measure contaminants in quantities up to 10,000 parts per million (ppm) with nearly instantaneous response times and recovery.

“Basically, the MiniRAE sniffs the soil for hydrocarbons and will give me a reading of parts per million,” MCpl Arcadians explains. Readings below 50 ppm are considered safe, while a reading over 100 ppm indicates contamination.

When a test indicates a need for soil remediation, digging permits are acquired and the ground is checked for buried cables. Whether the soil is treated onsite or removed to a nearby soil remediation site depends on the location and complexity of the surrounding infrastructure.

Break down, degrade, digest

Any contaminated soil that must be moved for treatment is excavated and hauled to the remediation site built by the engineers of Rotation 10. Afghan workers spread up to 1,250 cubic metres of soil onto a concrete pad measuring 50 metres square, and apply a dose of specialized, non-toxic bacteria.

“We spread the soil with Micro-BlazeŽ,” says MCpl Stewart. “It is like a soapy solution and it eats up the hydrocarbons in the soil.” Micro-BlazeŽ is a biodegradable, organic bioremediation and liquid-spill control product that first eliminates the flammability of hydrocarbons in the soil and then breaks down, degrades and digests the waste.

Team members use long hoses to soak the contaminated soil with Micro-BlazeŽ and then continue hosing it down with water to keep it damp. This ensures that the microbes penetrate thoroughly. “The desert heat and the lack of water can prove difficult at times,” says MCpl Stewart. “We cannot get anything done without water.”

The microbes in the soil break down the contaminants into smaller molecules that can be efficiently degraded into harmless by-products like carbon dioxide, water and trace salts. The entire process, which can take up to 21 days, is monitored by team members who take samples regularly.

Meanwhile, the original site of the contaminated soil is re-levelled with clean fill. Once the contaminated soil is fully remediated, it is trucked out for use at other locations where fill is needed.

Legacy of professionalism

The soil remediation team started work two days after arriving at KAF, and will keep at it until all Canadian compounds have been tested and any contaminated soil is treated. “We’ve taken close to 600 samples so far,” says MCpl Stewart. There are 19 Canadian sites to be tested.

The MTTF is responsible for closing Operation ATHENA in southern Afghanistan as part of the orderly transition of the Canadian Forces to other operations. The Government of Canada’s policy on environmental stewardship and protection dictates that, when the MTTF hands over the Joint Task Force Afghanistan compounds at KAF to the next occupants, the properties must be in the same condition—or better—as when the Canadian task force moved in.

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