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Posted 8/2/2017

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By Robert DeDeaux
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center


Whether an explosion of radioactive material in a large city or a lone military convoy hit with a Chemical IED, prevention is ideal but cleanup is imperative. The amount of usable water needed in both scenarios would be in short supply. New technology will provide water to Troops and first-responders in event of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear incident.

The Environmental Security Engineering Team of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory recently demonstrated the effectiveness of the Decontamination Effluent Treatment System in treating wastewater from CBRN decontamination operations at ERDC’s Campus in Vicksburg, Mississippi, June 27, 2017.

“We are seeking a solution to something that hasn’t been addressed before,” said Dr. Victor Medina, an engineer in the Environmental Engineering Branch and the project’s principal investigator. “This project focuses on the wastewater generated from decontamination after a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear attack.  The Army, DOD and EPA currently have no capability to treat or recycle the contaminated effluent from its aqueous-based CBRN decontamination operations on site.”

CBRN agents exist due to wartime activities, industrial production and advances in agricultural sciences.  Decontamination following a CBRN event requires a large amount of water resulting in a contaminated wastewater. This contaminated wastewater, or effluent, is potentially dangerous to the warfighter, local populations, the environment, and could possibly ruin publically funded owned wastewater treatment facilities.

DETS conserves water and can substantially reduce disposal costs for wastewater. The treatment system reclaims greater than 80 percent of the influent clean water that can be reused for additional vehicles and equipment decontamination, reducing water needs by 60 to 70 percent.  Treated water can also be returned to the environment, and the volume of water requiring disposal can be reduced by greater than 80 percent.

During the demonstration, the area’s storm-water drainage was blocked then routed into the DETS for treatment. Vehicles were sent through the decontamination area where personnel washed the vehicles then recycled the effluent from the underlying drainage pipes. The DETS separated the contaminated effluent from the drain into usable water stored in reclaimed-water tanks and potentially harmful wastewater rejected from the system was stored in wastewater tanks. The clean reclaimed water was then used to clean the next contaminated vehicle. After the clean-up procedures the recycled water inside the reclaimed water tanks tested negative for all harmful contaminants.

The system uses a multi-unit process to purify water including sand filtration, water softening, granular activated carbon and reverse osmosis.

“This system is the first portable system ever designed for the treatment of decontamination water” said Medina. “As such, it is designed to treat virtually any contaminant that could be found at its target flow rate of 10 gallons per minute.  It is also designed to have a low capital cost to allow the system to be disposed of after use if necessary due to highly toxic contaminants.”

Contaminated effluent creates storage, transportation and treatment problems. There is a great need for a technology that safely decommissions water-based CBRN contamination while reducing logistics costs. DETS has the potential to greatly decrease the amount of contaminated effluent released into the environment.

Medina’s team, funded by the Environmental Quality and Installations Program, has worked for the past three years on the DETS technology to treat virtually any CBRN contaminated area and minimize DECON water requirements. This treatment system is easy to deploy, operate and maintain, greatly reduces liabilities.

The Environmental Security Engineering Team was instrumental in the success of the demonstration and research. Scott Waisner, ERDC research engineer, led the DETS construction effort and the setup of the demonstration. Dr. Edith Martinez conducted testing on the system components. Jared Johnson, ERDC research and environmental engineer, designed and implemented the DETS control systems.

“Water is something we need and the resources are becoming hard to come by. It’s often challenging to get water sources into [combat] theater,” said Medina. “Our goal is to treat, reuse or recycle the water for military readiness, and we hope the technology created will have spin-off value to solve water problems that exist in U.S. communities.”

CBRN DECON decontamination DETS environmental NBC R&D research