Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Clean up with Pepsi

Governor's award honors state employees for using Pepsi to clean up contamination

RALEIGH– North Carolina and Pepsi Bottling Ventures (PBV) are celebrating the joys of environmental stewardship.
Just ask Chris Niver and Thomas Slusser, two state employees who are credited with using the high fructose corn syrup from unused soda donated to the state by Pepsi to clean up polluted groundwater at a site in Rockingham.
Their idea saved the state more than $1 million, helped PBV save money, and may prove to have more lasting benefits when it comes to addressing other contaminated sites across North Carolina.
“We’re taking something that would’ve been thrown away and repurposing it to cleanup pollution,” said Niver, an environmental engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
For their ingenuity, Niver and Slusser, a hydrogeologist with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, were among 15 public servants honored this week with Governor’s Awards for Excellence. The award is the highest recognition a state employee can receive.
“Protecting the environment is something we’re committed to, so in that sense we’re just doing something we strongly believe in,” Slusser said. “To be honored this way for protecting the environment and saving people money is a great feeling.”
Niver said the idea took hold after he began looking for a less expensive way to clean up groundwater contamination at former asphalt testing sites DOT is managing. Decades ago, chlorinated solvents such as those used in testing asphalt were released to the environment. At the time, far less was understood about the potentially harmful effects of chlorinated solvents and there were not laws in place to regulate against their release. Today cleanups frequently involve bioremediation, and Niver was working on a site that required 350,000 pounds of sodium lactate, which would cost the state more than $2 million.
Niver and his colleagues knew from experience that the sugars in a soft drink could perform the same function as the sodium lactate. High fructose corn syrup from Pepsi had been used successfully on environmental cleanups in other parts of the country. The question was how much it might cost to use Pepsi rather than other sodium lactate. Niver’s wife, Claire, works for PBV in Raleigh and he understood the soft drink manufacturer might also have a need. Pepsi was paying thousands of dollars to dispose of and treat old, unused soda and was happy to donate it to the state for free rather than pay for the costs of treatment. The company said its participation was in line with its corporate sustainability and stewardship initiatives. PBV even agreed to provide containers for free. The state only paid to pick up the product and transport it to the site.
Enter Slusser and a state toxicologist, who were needed to test the high fructose corn syrup to ensure that injecting it into the groundwater would not harm drinking water. Their tests revealed that the product is an effective cleanup compound that does not adversely affect groundwater quality, Slusser said. This vetting process resulted in the Pepsi “beverage remediation product” being added to the list of approved compounds that can be safely injected into the ground for cost-effective groundwater cleanups statewide.
For the first cleanup at a former asphalt testing site in Rockingham, Pepsi donated to the state 60,000 gallons of its unused soft drink. Niver and Slusser had the Pepsi transported to the site and used wells to inject the popular soft drink into the ground. The sugars in the soft drink acted as a catalyst for naturally-occurring bacteria in soil to grow and release a byproduct that started to break down the contamination.
Tests Slusser and Niver conducted tests of the contamination plume that revealed that concentrations of the chlorinated solvents had disappeared or almost disappeared.
Niver estimated using Pepsi produced the same results as other carbon compounds but for only a fraction of the cost. He estimates the cost savings from the project in Rockingham will be $1.6 million when the project is completed.
DOT is managing the cleanup of former asphalt testing sites across North Carolina, and Slusser and Niver said they plan to continue using expired Pepsi at as many sites as possible. This allows more sites to be cleaned up faster, more thoroughly and at a much lower cost, Niver said.
“This is a story about pollution prevention and the strategic bottom line benefits of better sustainable practices,” Niver said. “This is a private-public partnership where everyone’s a winner. The state saves money. Pepsi saves money. And the environment gets cleaned up.”
The Office of State Human Resources produced the following video on how Slusser and Niver won the Governor’s Award for Excellence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MG8nxT92LFo&list=PLoWgnlfmxiWZ42zbWFxc8zdeqbW2y3JGs&index=3.

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