skip to: onlinetools | mainnavigation | content | footer
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

SANDIA LAB NEWS

Lab News -- Oct. 28, 2005

October 28, 2005

LabNews 10/28/2005PDF (650KB)

Pilot Sandia treatment system that removes arsenic from water demonstrated at Rio Rancho well site

More help with arsenic problems -- see below

By Chris Burroughs

New Mexico will be one of several western states severely impacted next year by new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that call for a significant reduction in the amounts of arsenic allowed in water supplies.

Some 80 communities in the state will be affected, and costs for arsenic removal in New Mexico alone are estimated at $500 million.

This is according to Peter Davies, director of Geoscience and Environment Center 6100, who was among the presenters at a news conference earlier this month at a Rio Rancho well site where a Sandia research project designed to study ways to economically resolve the arsenic problem was displayed.

On hand were Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who secured $10 million for the research project in his role as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee; Rio Rancho Mayor Jim Owen; and Sandia executives. The Rio Rancho pilot treatment system tests arsenic removal technologies supplied by a number of vendors.

The project is part of a research program designed to find simple, inexpensive ways water utilities can reduce arsenic levels from their water supplies to meet the new EPA regulations that go into effect in January 2006. The regulations require the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of arsenic in water be reduced from the current limit of 50 micrograms per liter (µg/L) to 10 µg/L.

High levels of arsenic in water are known to increase the incidence of bladder and lung cancers.

Research program sponsors are the Arsenic Water Technology Partnership — a group made up of Sandia, the Awwa Research Foundation (AwwaRF), and WERC, a consortium for environmental education and technology development.

“Removing arsenic from municipal water is a pressing problem for many New Mexico communities,’’ says Domenici. “The costs of conventional removal methods are staggering, and that’s why I worked to fund research to find more affordable ways to get arsenic out of drinking water.”

Rio Rancho Mayor Jim Owen estimated that the cost for communities to meet the new EPA requirements will be about $300-$400 per household.

“When the new regulations were passed, many of us in the western states didn’t realize what it was going to mean,” Owen said at the conference. “It will hit us significantly in our pocketbooks if we are going to resolve this.”

The Rio Rancho demonstration project is the third implemented by the partnership in less than a year in New Mexico. The others are in Socorro and Anthony. More are expected to be established at other well sites around the state and outside of New Mexico in coming months by the project field team led by lead engineer Malynda Aragon and technologists Randy Everett and William Holub Jr. (both 6118).

“Types of arsenic cleanup used will vary from site to site because different communities have different water chemistries,” says Sandia project lead Malcolm Siegel (6118). “The different experiments at the multiple locations reflect those different needs.”

The Rio Rancho pilot demonstration will obtain arsenic removal performance data for six different adsorptive materials and two reverse osmosis units for a period of three to nine months.

The performance data obtained in the test will be combined with data from a previous pilot test using conventional technologies at the same well site to provide information useful to a large number of communities. -- Chris Burroughs

Sandia to help New Mexico water systems lower arsenic levels in supplies

New Mexico water systems don’t have to deal with meeting new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arsenic standards on their own. Sandia is there to help.

The Labs received nearly $1 million from DOE to reach out to the approximately 80 communities in the state being affected by the EPA regulations that require arsenic levels in water supplies to be reduced from the current limit of 50 micrograms per liter (µg/L) to 10 µg/L. Through the Sandia Arsenic Rural Outreach Program, over the next 16 months Labs personnel will help identify community water systems’ needs, evaluate water chemistries, and help communities develop their own individualized solutions for reducing arsenic levels.

Eligible for the program are existing water systems regulated by the New Mexico Environment Department that serve less than 10,000 people and have arsenic levels in their water at or higher than 10 µg/L. Priority will be given to systems with the greatest immediate need.

“The water chemistry is different around the state,” says Sue Collins (6118) who heads the program. “As a result, solutions will vary from community to community.”

New Mexico, like many western states, has high levels of arsenic in ground water due largely to its mountainous geography. For example, the Rio Grande Basin, which includes the Albuquerque area, has large underground faults, young sediment, and geothermal heating. “All of these conspire to give you the potential for high arsenic levels in ground water,” Sue adds.

For some communities arsenic removal could, in extreme cases, be very expensive. At the high end some studies show yearly costs ranging up to $400-$500 for a normal household — considerably more than most water systems can afford.

In August water systems in New Mexico were sent letters advising them that Sandia has started a program to help utilities figure out ways to meet the new standards. Sue and her team have already personally contacted five communities, and the number will increase weekly until most of the impacted communities have been addressed.

“We’re starting with some of the communities near Albuquerque but will soon be reaching out statewide,” Sue says.

The first water systems being studied are south of Albuquerque; systems north of the city will come next.

Among the initial steps is the sampling of water from each water system that seeks assistance to begin identifying the best technologies for that utility. As part of this process, Sandia will collect, free of charge, water samples using Labs equipment and test for any additional water chemistry information needed to complete the evaluation.

Then, Sandia personnel will meet with managers of each water system to evaluate the utility’s potential solutions and report back to the water system on an individual basis.

A variety of solutions are available, depending on the needs of the community. In some locations well water with large concentrations of arsenic may be blended with water from wells with low concentrations. In others the potential for treatment involving adsorptive materials will be evaluated.

Another option for smaller communities is the installation of small “point of use systems” that can be placed under a sink. These systems must be owned and operated by the utility and monitored a couple of times a year by the New Mexico Environment Department. However, this seemingly attractive picture is clouded by the cost inherent in regularly servicing many widely separated systems, and by the fact that the state regulatory agency could, theoretically, require access to sample water from the kitchen tap at any time, without prior announcement.

Because of the complex interplay of technological, social, financial, and legal issues, Sue says the solutions for arsenic problems in New Mexico are inherently multidisciplinary.

“It’s not a simple engineering problem, not a simple scientific problem, and not a simple economic problem,” she says. “Success will be determined by taking into account all these disciplines.”

With the costs of cleanup potentially expensive, Sandia arsenic outreach program staff are knowledgeable about what funding sources are available to help the communities. A few federal grants and loan programs exist. Working their way through the grant and loan process can be complicated, and the Sandia staff will help the communities contact appropriate resources in various potential funding agencies.

Sue says Sandia also collaborates with other groups in the state that are helping the communities determine how they can best bring arsenic levels down. For example, a joint WERC (a consortium for environmental education and technology development) Sandia workshop held in Albuquerque Oct. 11 briefed representatives from 16 water utilities on strategies for dealing with the upcoming changes, and provided Senator Domenici with a forum for interacting directly with representatives from some of the most concerned communities. -- Chris Burroughs

Top of page


Sandia lends expertise, assistance during hurricane cleanup

By Michael Padilla

After nearly two months following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Sandia continues to assist with the relief effort along the Gulf Coast.

A computer network to assist evacuees at the Houston Astrodome locate family members was set up by a Sandian, and a Sandia computer server was used to help map safe convoy routes during the evacuation. Sandians have also provided technical expertise in economic analyses, and Sandia continues to lead a multilab effort looking at water decontamination issues in New Orleans.

Mississippi assistance

Several Sandians spent eight days in Gulfport, Miss., in mid-October, assisting in the recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina. The team resided at a volunteer village sponsored by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which was a “tent city” for as many as 150 volunteers.

The team went out to various work sites and assisted in “mucking out” flood damaged homes, placing temporary roofs on people’s homes, removing tree damage, and doing some home repairs. Sandians on the team included Jeffery Porter (5719), Julie Bouchard (6225), Susan (Trudi) Martinez (5525), Patti Valles (4311), and Dennis Johnson (2550).

Tulane support

Sandia’s Advanced Materials Laboratory and the University of New Mexico’s Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering are hosting Dr. Yunfeng Lu, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Tulane, seven graduate students, and two postdocs. Lu, a former UNM graduate student and Sandia post-doc, has been collaborating with Jeff Brinker, a Sandia fellow, scientist, and UNM professor, on self-assembled supramolecular materials. Lu already was partially funded by a Sandia LDRD as a result of the award of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Carol Ashley, team leader in Ceramic Processing and Inorganic Materials, says Sandia and UNM are committed to assisting Lu and his students to ensure that their research continues.

Research has been conducted in three labs, including one in Sandia’s Advanced Materials Labs, and two at UNM’s Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering. Equipment has been loaned by various Sandia organizations and is being coordinated by Eric Branson (1815). Jeff Brinker (1002) authorized a line of credit at UNM using his UNM overhead funds to allow purchase of chemicals and supplies by the Tulane group while they awaited arrival of transferred funds from their funding agencies. The group now is receiving their funding from Tulane.

The researchers and the spouses of two graduate students now live in three separate apartments, which are supplied by a faculty member from UNM’s Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering, the Albuquerque Red Cross Association, and FEMA.

Eric says the entire AML staff has donated large amounts of time in assisting with the set-up of the lab, training on equipment, and ensuring a smooth transition for the Tulane researchers.

“This could not have been done without the help of a lot of people,” says Eric. “I would like to extend a thanks to all those who helped.”

Astrodome network

John Larson (4330), assisted in setting up a computer network to help evacuees in Houston Astrodome locate family members.

John says he knew he could make more of a difference professionally and personally for the victims other than by donating money. He was frustrated at progress of the Hurricane Katrina response so he started searching the Internet and calling around the country looking for ways to help. He found an article in the Houston Chronicle requesting wireless communications expertise at the Astrodome, and that same night was on a plane to Houston.

Once the network was set up at the Astrodome, John began to assist evacuees and input requests for information about missing family and friends.

John says there will be plenty of evacuee stories to remember. He recalls a young lady and her daughter who walked to the Superdome through two miles of water that sometimes was up to their chest. The two had spent two days on an overpass with many other people with no food or water before making the decision to walk to the Superdome. “She said the two nights in the Superdome were much worse than the bridge, she felt fear for her daughter and herself,” he says. She had left part of her family on that bridge, and John was helping her try to locate them.

“It’s one thing to hear these stories on CNN and read them in the paper and another thing to hear them firsthand from a human being sitting across from you and still seeing the fear and anguish on their face,” John says.

NISAC update

Analyses of infrastructure impacts due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, done by the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), were completed Sept. 23. The Department of Homeland Security’s NISAC is a core partnership between Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.

Nancy Brodsky (6222) helped lead several Sandians in analyses of critical infrastructure, including energy, telecommunications, and other infrastructure sectors (Lab News, Sept. 16). NISAC completed 17 reports for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) including two Katrina pre-event, one Ophelia pre-event, four Rita pre-event, and 10 Katrina post-event reports. NISAC also contributed to two DOE reports.

NISAC is currently looking at scenarios around the nation with the potential for severe consequences.

“We are looking at other types of natural disasters, as well as accidents, and deliberate interventions,” Nancy said. “We focus on consequences to infrastructure for such events.”

Search and rescue

New Mexico Task Force 1 (NMTF-1) members Bruce Berry (6445), Kenneth Gwinn (1526), and Jerry Wellman (1527) participated in search and rescue operations following Katrina.

Bruce says the team went “roof to roof” assisting people in houses, apartments, schools, and businesses. During the nine days the team was there they assisted anywhere from 60 to 150 people per day.

Kenneth and Jerry were deployed as structures specialists after Hurricane Katrina. Bruce was deployed as a search team manager. Arne Gullerud (1542) was unable to deploy due to work commitments but he spent many hours pre-deployment helping the team get out the door.

Kenneth spent the majority of his time helping decontaminate rescuers and victims as they came out of the water. He spent one day in a boat performing search and rescue operations. Jerry spent the majority of his time helping with securing supplies, unpacking and packing equipment. He also spent two days in a boat performing search and rescue operations.

Bruce says the team is on call and can be deployed to assist with any emergency at any time. The team has one hour to respond with a yes or no.

“This is my commitment to my community and to the United States,” says Bruce.

NMTF-1 is one of 28 FEMA urban search and rescue (USAR) teams in the country. USAR teams were originally formed to deal with large natural disasters that overwhelm local responses in the aftermath of the Mexico City earthquake.

Sandia’s contribution to NMTF-1 is to allow its Sandia members to train and respond on their own time — typically vacation. This includes acceptance of the potential conflict-of-interest for those who perform engineering activities for both Sandia and FEMA.

Other relief activities

• David Ellis (6435) assisted with a Sandia computer server that was sent to St. Louis to help map safe convoy routes and help survivors locate each other.

• Sandia led a multilab effort to develop a decision tree for water decontamination in New Orleans. The team developed an initial decision tree and identified technical advisory groups for the potential major issues. The efforts were led by Mark Tucker (6245) and Richard Griffith (1517).

• The commercial version of the Sandia DF-200 decontamination foam is being used to clean up commercial buildings in Mississippi. It is being used both before and after water is removed from the facilities, primarily for disinfection of pathogenic microorganisms. DF-200 was also used to help clean and disinfect the New Orleans Sports Arena (the basketball and hockey arena next to the Superdome). This was where most medical cases were held while the hospitals were closed.

• DHS evaluated Sandia proposed portable video/audio equipment for deployment to New Orleans. -- Michael Padilla

Top of page


ACG ‘Future of War’ Think-Fest produces many sparks, no fires

By Neal Singer

Will women’s rights groups fall in the battle against religious extremism? Will “geezers” monitor battlefields remotely, freeing younger people for other tasks? Will blogs fragment the opinions of conventional media? International consortiums form their own armies to protect their properties? And will online banking become a primary source of virtual money laundering?

These and other informal questions and insights about the world’s future were scrawled on whiteboards or spoken aloud in a two-day gathering of 49 visionaries with exceptionally varied outlooks, gathered from across the country into the marginally spartan, windowless quarters of Sandia’s Advanced Concept Group (ACG) in mid-September. The ACG periodically invites outside experts to “think-fests” that investigate long-range problems that could impact national or global security.

The creative thinkers, with their distinguished resumes, were there to brainstorm the future of war and peace. There were people from Special Forces and from conciliation groups, social and political and educational theorists, and people who know how to blow things up. There were people on third careers after spending decades in the military, and people just starting out with degrees from Harvard. Eighteen were Sandians.

‘The collective brain’

“I want you to operate as a collective brain,” said ACG leader and Sandia VP and Principal Scientist Gerry Yonas (7000), as he introduced the “Future of War” Think-Fest at a dinner at the National Atomic Museum Sept. 19. “What we’d like to take out of this is one great idea.”

Wendell Jones (7000), who led the ACG exercise, preferred the concept of a farming exercise: “We want to plant as many seeds as possible. Some won’t germinate, others will grow.”

Karl Braithwaite (7000), whose background includes helping write many environmental laws (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Superfund, and others), and serving as Dean of the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, told the Lab News, “My colleagues [elsewhere] found it unusual that a nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico would have such far-reaching discussions.”

Look widely, Grasshopper

Wendell opened the meeting by showing two pictures of the same tiger, one with perception points recorded by Chinese students and the other as seen by Americans (images at top right). The Americans looked directly at the tiger — teeth, head, shoulders, haunches. The Chinese looked first at the tiger, and then at the rocks and trees surrounding it. They wanted context.

To gain new viewpoints, therefore, said Wendell, “The first few sessions will consist of putting the future of war in context, rather than doing what American engineers are most comfortable at: brainstorming a particular problem and coming up with an immediate solution.”

The approach involved creating four versions of the world as it might exist in 2025: inclusive globalization, pernicious globalization, regional competition, and a post-polar world where everyone works together. While no one conclusion emerged, there were many flashes of light that might merit further thought.

Among them:

• While in the past the US had resisted becoming dependent on a single supplier for strategic goods, it is now strategically dependent on China for consumer goods and credit.

• The military will increasingly be concerned with peacekeeping and peacemaking; it will need a negotiating capacity and a capacity to rebuild.

• There will be “a rise in American humility, an acceptance that we can’t do everything and be everywhere.”

• Get in, get out, with no boots on the ground.

• “We want the world to love us more, while getting all the things we got by being mean.”

• Chinese military R&D funding is smaller than the US but its researchers are paid only 1/50 as much, so the research achieved may not be as disproportionate as it may seem.

• Worldwide business consortiums may build their own armies to protect their investments.

• Headline: “OPEC crashes; Muslims, anti-green terrorists blame US, China, EU [because of fast rise of ‘green’ energy].

• A continental state will be formed of Canada, the US, and Mexico, ending our border problems.

• Adding anthropologists and sociologists to the mix of lawyers and military people who currently make most military decisions will provide more insight into what the US will face in places like Iraq.

Criticisms of session

Participant Alan William objected, “[Most of] these assumptions are that the US won’t be the dominant military power in 2025. It’s my job to see that it remains so, and I believe that it will.” Williams, an engineer, leads the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Future Threat Initiative.

Gerry Yonas expressed disappointment that he “came out with what I went in with,” and “did not get that big idea.”

“We already knew that the military will not provide the solution to the ideological wars of the future,” he told the Lab News. “The meeting agreed. Little came out that said war does anything for you in these fundamentally ideological wars. If there is no superpower to confront, and Islam is having a war of ideas within itself, trying to find its way, then we have to rethink the role of the military and the tools it needs. Instead of the ‘Big Army’ solution, what we may need is the small forces approach we used in Afghanistan. Preventing conflict in advance of future disputes may be the most effective approach.

“Rather than ‘walk softly and carry a big stick,’ the meeting concluded it’s better to listen to your enemies carefully and carry a small stick, or maybe lots of small very precise sticks,” Gerry continued. “If the future is Special Forces and low-intensity conflict, the technology that is critical is predictive awareness: a persistent, ubiquitous network of smart sensors. This may need to be coupled to precision strike and precision understanding of the strike.”

The program also took criticism from some participants who disagreed with the choice of context.

Stewart Brand, compiler of the Whole Earth Catalog and a former infantry lieutenant, e-mailed after the meeting’s conclusion, “Most of our recommendations seemed appropriate [only] for an audience of the Joint Chiefs and a bipartisan Congressional commission, since they had to do mostly with reorganizing the nation’s military intelligence apparatus.”

Former Naval Special Warfare Officer Kevin Baugh, now associate director of the Office of Government and industry liaison for the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, e-mailed that he “was very pleased with what I got out of the [conference but] . . . I was especially disheartened by the fact that we did not exercise a truly difficult scenario (perhaps something like a ‘post nuclear war in the Mideast world’) where much of the world’s oil supply becomes contaminated unexpectedly and the US must suddenly cope with real shortages in petroleum products in a highly competitive world.”

‘Way out of comfort zone’

Of the alternative scenarios posed, Wendell said, “That’s the point of the diversity of the group. Some participants were way out of their comfort zone and others thought we weren’t way out there enough.

“We wanted plenty of people in this crowd — like the Grummans and the Boeings and the military services — prejudiced to want some potent technology that could prevail in the future. Then we wanted social science people who would

contend for more artful, sophisticated influence. Interestingly, we didn’t have knockdown fights between social scientists and military folks.

Everybody came out and said we have to get much smarter in understanding cultures and influencing ideas, and gain technology to influence people’s motives and intentions.

“It was a disconcerting conclusion,” Wendell continued. “Many of the folk there would have been happy to have a mission come rolling out [to take the technology and make it overwhelming for the US], but that’s not what came out from any group, despite the military/DOE presence.

The Fest seemed to say, wow, maybe the future of national security is all around these other features.

“We’re still discussing [in the ACG] what that means for Sandia’s future.”

Wendell concluded, “One of our aims was to bring people together who would otherwise never run into each other in their daily lives. I think we did that. Three genuinely diverse collaborations seem already to have sprung up. We’re looking forward to seeing how many more idea-seeds sprout.”

-- Neal Singer

Top of page