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The following article was originally written by the Casper Star Tribune, and reprinted in various areas through the Associated Press.





"Sucking Up the Seepage"
Star-Tribune staff writer

The plant smells like burgers on the barbecue, which is funny because what's actually cooking is bentonite, 1.2 million pounds of bentonite.

Aqua Technologies of Wyoming Inc., a Casper firm, is making its biggest sale ever of modified bentonite, also called activated clay, or ET-1, that sucks up hydrocarbons while letting water run off. Bushels of the stuff in white bags emblazoned with the "Steamboat and Rider" Wyoming symbol are bound for a site in Portland, Ore., where toxic contaminants are ruining the water.

"Our material is grabbing ahold of this stuff as it seeps out of the ground," said Tony Brown, Aqua Technology's president.

To demonstrate the point, Brown pours a container of the white sandy material on a table and takes a dropper full of oily water. He squeezes the liquid onto the bentonite and the brown water turns clear. The bentonite holds contamination and lets water move through it.

This is the technology the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) needs to clean up the site of the former McCormick & Baxter Creosote Co. on the shore and in the bed of the Willamette River.

From 1944 until 1991, the McCormick & Baxter plant made chemically-treated wood products like telephone poles. Contaminants in the river sediment now include creosote, arsenic, dioxin and PCPs, all of which can harm humans and fish, particularly Chinook salmon, that swim there.

"We're not talking about gushing streams or anything," Brown said, referring to the pollution.

The Oregon DEQ has already removed 33,000 tons of soil and placed a subsurface barrier around 16 acres of the site to prevent contaminants from escaping. But officials have to deal with the contamination that has already escaped and is concentrated in three spots.

"This is probably the most complex, largest environmental cleanup the state of Oregon has done," said Keith Carpenter, the president of the project's contractor Remtech.

The capping alone will cost $12 million, with money provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Remtech workers have started capping the contamination with about 1 foot of the product in three areas totalling 21 acres. They will then put sand, gravel and concrete on top to prevent the product from being eroded by the tide and shipping traffic.

This kind of capping procedure is new, said Kevin Parrett, the project manager for the site.

"Up until just four years ago, when contaminated sediments were capped, there really wasn't a formal consideration of the transport through the caps," Parrett said.

The contamination would just find its way to where the cap ends and then escape there.

The appeal of ET-1 Activated Clay is that it adsorbs -- not ab-sorbs --contamination, which means that it chemically assimilates another substance.

Over a period of years, natural organisms can eat the hydrocarbons. It is also considered safe enough to put in a landfill.

"This is the first real full-scale application using organoclay," Parrett said.

The material is usually used to treat water from oil-well-drilling operations, but everyone involved with the project is sure it will be effective for caps -- and they'll be testing to see if it is.

Aqua Technologies' plant gets about 40,000 pounds of material from Black Hills every other day. Through a proprietary process -- Brown won't say why the plant smells like burgers -- it is combined with five principal, nontoxic chemicals. The plant is currently going 24 hours a day to meet the demand, which, company officials admit, has ticked off the neighbors.

One pound of the finished product will pick up about 0.7 pounds of hydrocarbons, according to company literature. It costs, depending on how much you buy, between $1.25 and $1.75 per pound.

In the end, people in Portland will likely get a waterfront park that will be safe to play in, said Carpenter. Aqua Technologies could get more multi-million pound orders and the air north of Casper will continue to smell like burgers.

View the original article:
Casper Star Tribune


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