WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development has received an award for $90,083 to test a process to remove methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) from soil. MTBE is commonly used to reduce air contaminants from automobiles. This chemical is added to gasoline to increase internal combustion efficiency, thus minimizing carbon monoxide emissions. Leakage from underground storage tanks can release MTBE into the environment. This synthetic substance is not readily biodegradable and it is very mobile in soils and groundwater. Humans can detect the presence of this chemical in drinking water when present in just a few parts per billion. Mostly every state in the nation has reported cases of MTBE contamination in their water supplies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development in Cincinnati has demonstrated that MTBE can be converted to harmless carbon dioxide and water using an advanced oxidation process, AOP. The AOP uses field-generated ozone in the presence of ultraviolet light to break down the recalcitrant MTBE molecules.
EPA entered into an agreement with Shaw Environmental to test the technical and economic feasibility of the AOP process. Shaw Environmental contracted Souder Miller (a local engineering firm) and WERC at NMSU to deploy and test the AOP concept at a site in Roswell , NM . The EPA provided WERC with an AOP process that is easily transported in a trailer. Maritza Macias, a Ph.D. candidate in the civil engineering program at NMSU, James Loya with WERC and Fernando Cadena with the civil engineering department plan to deploy the AOP unit after preliminary testing at NMSU. Results of the field tests will generate design parameters and engineering economics that can help the EPA provide guidance to engineering firms on the design and operation of AOP units at hundreds of contaminated sites nationwide.