|Field Technician George Esqueda assembles parts for a water pump.|
The Mevatec Corporation from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico is once again at the Green River Test Site. Their mission this spring is to collect the water from the wells which were drilled last fall. William Little, senior geologist on the project said, "Last fall we installed ground water monitoring wells all over the site. In the cantonment area and also at the launch sites. We are now back to sample the wells. We are done with the surface water sampling. Greg Watterson, who is a member of our team on the project floated down the Green River to the Brown's Wash area where he collected water from the middle of the Green River. This water will be tested and results compared to the water we are gathering from the wells.
"When the sampling is finished and the results are in, we will write a big report with all the findings. This report is given to the army and the regulators who will decide what if anything further needs to be done. In the tentative results in general we are not finding much. There are a couple of steps to go through in proving up on the chemistry. We will send the lab results and documentation to a third party to study the lab work and validate the results or not validate the results whatever the case might be. They will determine the quality of the data and how serious the processing error was if in fact there was an error. They will decide what to do. In general, we expect the data will be validated.
"After that step if everything is validated the report will go to the government and if anything was found, they will determine the significance of it and what should be done and make recommendations for cleanup or not. It is the governments call, the army, the state of Utah and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It is a joint decision. The state has been involved the whole way, Rik Ombach has been involved in the whole process from the beginning. Jerald Cross, environmental scientist from the EPA out of Denver is here on site with us. By fall the army should issue a report as to the recommendation for the site.
"We are shipping the water samples to the laboratory in Lubbock, Texas. They are preserved on ice and shipped in coolers to keep the samples at the proper temperature. When the water sampling test results begin coming back this summer we will begin comparing the soil samples and the water samples together. We are looking for the same chemicals in the soil and water. The ultimate question here is, 'Is there something here in the soil and is it moving into the water?'
"These two pieces will tell whether or not you have a problem and how serious it is. Some of the water samples are collected with a bailer, which is a long tube with a collection cup on one end. It is lowered down into the well and pulled up with the retrieved water going into a sample jar. The jars are all cleaned and without trace of chemicals. It is a standard EPA setup. The water is kept at a temperature of 4 degrees centigrade. As soon as the coolers arrive at the lab and are opened up, they immediately check the temperature inside the cooler.
"Wells are also being sampled in a more sophisticated way. A small diameter, low flow sampling pump withdraws the water gently and it runs into the jar through a tube," said Little.
Watterson said, "This well depth is approximately 19 and one-half feet deep, it is filled with approximately four feet of water. The pump is set at a slow rate so there will be minimal disturbance of the system."
Cross explained the need for the sampling to be taken from a clean area. As water is drawn out then new water replaces that drawn out. The slotted pipe at the bottom of the well allows the movement of the new water into the well.
Watterson said, "We want to sample the water quality around the perimeter of the wells." The water is tested for temperature, ph, conductivity which is the ability of the water to conduct electricity, also it is checked for the amount of dissolved materials, salt content, etc.
"Fifteen or 16 liters of water is needed from each well for all of the tests that will be performed. Different containers are used for different tests. The small glass vials contain the water which will be sampled for volatile organic compounds. A bigger amber colored bottle holds water which will be sampled for several things like semi-volatile organic compounds and pesticides. Plastic bottles are used for everything else which includes tests for metals and inorganic materials. One bottle of water is used per test. Tests are done in various parts of the lab and one bottle goes to each part of the lab," said Watterson.
Cross explained that two bottles are always sent to allow for breakage in shipping. Little explained that from time to time two samples are taken from the same well for duplicate analysis. This assures quality control. Cross said sometimes samples are sent to two different labs so comparisons can be made.
Little said, "As soon as the water samples arrive at the lab, they record their arrival and immediately store them in walk-in coolers. Every shipment is documented and there is a chain of custody. This is a very important part to see that proper procedures were followed."
"To prevent cross contamination between sites, all protective clothing is changed and all equipment is cleaned throughly before moving to the next well collection site. These precautions keep a clean environment. All by-products from the testing procedure such as waste water from washing equipment, soiled protective clothing and gloves are all kept on the site in sealed barrels and are labeled with information about the contents and which area of the site they came from. They will be kept until all of the analysis is completed and it is determined how they can be disposed of safely.
"The pumps are cleaned with distilled water and a low concentrate detergent which rinses off easily. They are rinsed many times to make sure they are clean. We bring some supplies but we also purchase some locally. An analysis is also done on the water that the parts from the pump are rinsed in to make sure the equipment came clean. This type of testing proves to anybody that these samples collected are a true and proper representation and haven't been contaminated with bad sampling processes. We do good work and you have to prove that you do good work. These samples are proof that you've done good work," said Little.
The samples are kept on ice to keep the temperature of the sample constant, the goal is to keep the acids and bases in the state they were in when sampled. The samples are taken in an agreed upon order by all parties involved. The small vials are filled first. Then if a well didn't produce enough water for all the tests, the most important tests could be done first. Mevatec plans to stay at the site until all the wells have produced the needed water for the testing, although some of the wells are slow producers.
Watterson said, "We worked hard the first days to get the samples for the short hold. These had to be analyzed within 48 hours after they were taken from the ground."
All of the work is documented as they go and a check list is adhered to. Cross said, "If we have to deviate from the proper order we have it documented as to why we changed from what we said we'd do. Everything will be reviewed as the report is put together."
Depending on the analysis to be done not every sample has to be preserved with a preservative. Little explained what they were looking for, "We are looking for analytes, we don't use the word contaminates because that is not the case. We don't know what we have here on the site, that's why we are here.
Little said, "We're here to prove that the army did a good job taking care of the site while they were here." Field Technician George Esqueda and Jennifer Davis, geologist were also on the site installing the pump and drawing samples. Two wells on each side of the building where vehicle maintenance was performed will give a clear picture if water has been contaminated in the area. The pump operates with compressed air CO2. The plastic tubing expands which forces the water up the supply line, the bladder relaxes letting the water flow in. Cross pointed out the CO2 does not come into contact with the water as that could change the reading. "We eliminate as many variables as possible to get the purest samples we can," said Cross.
The well Esqueda was working with had a depth of 16.82 feet from the well casing down to the water. The first water out of the well is not used for the sampling. Each well is allowed to settle before the samples are drawn.
Cross said, "The EPA is on the site to oversee that everything is going according to the work plan. We work on quality assurance and making sure the work is done right."
Little agreed that everything, Mevatec does is done in accordance with all guidelines and regulations. Cross also pointed out that by being on site supervising he develops a trust with the workers so when they get the data back if something doesn't look right then they can figure out why. "When the results are back, everyone sits down together. We take turns meeting at White Sands or Denver. We get together as a team."
The results from all of the testing of soil and water on the Green River Test Site will help to determine its future. If the site is declared clean then its future could be determined more rapidly. If anything at the site is in need of cleanup this could slow down the determination of just what should be done with the site. Until the final results are in and analyzed the future of the site is still up in the air as were the many missiles launched from the site in its heyday.