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'Superbug' removes toxins from base golf course soil

HICKAM AFB, HI -- An environmental initiative results in the enhancement of an environmentally safe, locally grown 'superbug' that is cleaning up toxic chemicals dumped in an old landfill of the 1940s underneath Mamala Bay Golf Course. 

"These microscopic superbugs consume potentially toxic chemicals (present in the soil) and break them down to a level that is not harmful to humans or the environment," said Patricia Teran-Matthews, Environmental Restoration element 15 CE/CEVR. 

With funding from PACAF at the onset of the project in September 2005, the total cost of the project was $250,000, which ended this past November with a report on the study, according to Todd Lanning, Chief of the Environmental Restoration element with 15 CE/CEVR. "This was a pilot/demonstration project that was designed to see if it would work and it did. We are looking into possible ways to implement it full scale." 

Mr. Lanning added that the organism works by ingesting toxic chemicals (PCE, TCE) that can affect the liver and kidneys if consumed or inhaled by humans and converts them into a non-toxic compound. 

"(The Air Force) knew it was a landfill when they built the golf course," said Mr. Lanning. "It's an approved reuse of the land and it is better than putting houses on them, which has happened in the past with disastrous results." 

One challenge Ms. Teran-Matthews pointed out was that while the 'superbugs' work to create a better environment for people, they create a challenging environment for themselves - their own waste products and the environment they are meant to clean contain high levels of an element that is toxic to them. 

Lanning said they already knew of a solution, but needed to prove that the basic chemical procedure would protect this particular indigenous 'superbug' by adding a substance that gets rid of the toxic sulfides. 

To prove this, Shaw Environmental, Inc. handled the study that proved the procedure worked very well, according to Lanning. 

Lanning explained future challenges facing the project. He said that with the positive results of 2006, a feasibility study is in the works, scheduled for the latter part of 2007, to determine whether design challenges can be overcome with less cost to the Air Force than simply monitoring the toxins that, if left undisturbed, do not currently pose a health threat.