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Home : News : News
NEWS | Feb. 29, 2008

Environmental advisers link base efforts to post-2012 cleanup closeout

By Erica Becvar and Javier Santillan Special contributors

A team of Air Force and consulting scientists reviewing the environmental cleanup program recognized the efforts taken by the restoration team of the 37th Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight.

The accelerated progress made at Lackland means base environmental officials are working hard toward meeting the Air Force goal of implementing "Remedy-in-Place" by 2012.

The advisers say focusing on several small, underground environmental hotspots and streamlining other cleanup areas will set the stage for negotiations with state of Texas officials to close out base cleanup efforts.

If implemented, these steps could ensure the site is safe and save the Air Force millions of dollars by shortening the time horizon for cleanups at Lackland.

Closing out major efforts to treat groundwater and soil at the site is realistic after Air Force goals of having cleanup actions in place at all bases are met by 2012, according to the advisers.

Lackland is moving toward meeting the 2012 goal, and with some adjustments to its current approaches, should be positioned to make major gains shortly after, they found.

The expert review is part of a unique program sponsored by the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment to assist bases by providing an intense, weeklong evaluation of cleanup efforts to ensure they are protective, efficient and timely, and that decision-makers are informed.

These Remedial Process Optimization, or RPO, reviews are conducted to accelerate the closure of sites that are poised to enter the final stages of environmental cleanup.

RPOs led to the closure of 45 specific polluted sites on AETC bases last year and have sped up the pace of closures by a minimum of 5 years across the board.

The reviews promote cost-effective cleanups with an emphasis on effectiveness. This ensures cleanups are protective and promote a range of other health, community, administrative and pollution-reduction benefits.

The RPO team of engineers, scientists and water experts walk base sites where contamination is being addressed, study reports, and perform new analysis of information before briefing regulators and base and other Air Force environmental officials after five days of careful review.

In addition, they collaborate with base officials in discussing the recommendations and can also get out in the field to measure results upon request.

"The RPO review points the way toward key steps that will improve the management of residual environmental health concerns on base, and ensure an efficient handoff as AFCEE prepares the objectives of the next Performance-Based Site Cleanup Contract in 2009," said AFCEE Program Management Office representative Jim Holley

The base's RPO, conducted Jan. 7-11, focused on former landfills and areas where solvents and degreasers were used to maintain aircraft and other machinery. Environmental samples show that while these chemicals are breaking down in the soil, a few remaining areas have elevated levels that require short-term cleanup.

In addition, the RPO team found that only several wells among an extensive network that are being monitored and pumped are polluted. All the wells funnel water toward a treatment plant to remove chemicals.

If further information confirms that most wells are clean, Texas officials could be petitioned to approve stopping the system which processes water that, for the most part, is safe for drinking.
This step alone could save $400,000 a year.

Lackland AFB officials are successfully working with cleanup contractors to meet broader Air Force goals of having cleanups in place at all bases by 2012. As this work progresses, the Lackland AFB environmental team can begin planning for the next phases of managing residual underground contamination, the advisers said.

The process is complicated by dual management by Lackland AFB and KellyUSA administrative units and the need to revise permits from the state and fulfill other legal requirements.

However, the RPO team recommended that planning now for closeout is still warranted, especially as responsibility for the next phases of site cleanup will be assumed by AFCEE in 2009.

Other RPO visits are being planned in 2008 for bases in Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and many other areas, including some overseas locations.

For more information on RPO programs, see the program description on the AFCEE web site: