A UMR researcher and several students are helping find new ways to clean up contaminated groundwater at a former munitions site near Mead, Neb., by recycling the water through a special type of well.
Used as a munitions production site from 1942-1956, the former Nebraska Ordnance Plant released chemicals that contaminated the soil and groundwater, affecting wells throughout Saunders County, where Mead is located. Dr. Curt Elmore, an assistant professor of geological and petroleum engineering at UMR, is helping the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers clean contaminated groundwater from the site.
Elmore is researching the effectiveness of "groundwater circulation wells," which are designed to recycle groundwater by removing it from the aquifer where it is stored, removing the contaminants and returning it to the aquifer.
"It’s kind of a holistic approach whereby the contamination is removed and the water is replaced, without much impact on the real estate," Elmore says.
"I am looking for ways to more effectively remove the contamination from the groundwater without discarding the resource and to involve students in that process."
The most recently funded portion of his research involves a cost-effective technique called "direct-push slug testing." This approach measures hydraulic conductivity, or the ease at which the water moves through the aquifer, by using hydraulic (water-powered) "pushing" or "hammering" rather than traditional drilling, Elmore says.
"We use the hydraulic conductivity data to help design new systems to clean up the groundwater and to evaluate how systems are performing," he explains. "Direct-push slug testing is a very cost-effective for collecting hydraulic conductivity data."
Elmore works closely with the Corps’ Kansas City, Mo., office, which is responsible for cleaning up formerly used defense sites across the Midwest. Research at the Nebraska site is also performed by the Corps’ Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss.
"We’ve been looking at how well these technologies function, and how can we help the engineers, hydrologists and geologists design these systems," he says.
Elmore has been working at the Nebraska site for more than 10 years, first with a consulting firm performing environmental restoration for the Corps of Engineers, and more recently as a UMR researcher.
The 17,000-acre site was used for ordnance production during World War II and the Korean conflict. In the late 1980s, the Corps identified areas of the soil contaminated with munitions wastes, including trinitrotoluene (TNT), trichloroethylene (TCE), and cyclomethylenetrinitramine (RDX). The area was declared a Superfund site in 1990, when the Corps began cleanup efforts.
About 400 people obtain drinking water from wells within three miles of the site, and residents use the water for livestock and irrigation. The area is also very close to Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., and could potentially affect the water supply of those cities, Elmore explains.