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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Field-scale application of vetiver grass to mitigate dioxin contaminated soil at Bien Hoa Airbase 

PI: Ngo Thi Thuy Huong,, Vietnam Research Centre on Karst and Geoheritage of the Vietnam Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources, and co-PI Nguyen Hung Minh, Center for Environmental Monitoring
U.S. Partner: James Landmeyer, U.S. Geological Survey
Project Dates: December 2017 - November 2020

Project Overview

Vietnam is one of the worst dioxin-contaminated areas in the world as a result of extensive use of the herbicide “Agent Orange” (AO) during the war (1961–1971). The worst contaminated sites in Vietnam are located at airbases where large quantities of AO were stored/handled. These areas still pose serious environmental and health risks. To date, no low-cost, effective phytoremediation technology has been developed to stabilize, mitigate, and remediate soils with low to moderate levels of dioxin contamination over large areas. Initial studies with vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides L.) indicate that it is a very promising candidate for providing such an alternative. This PEER project will (1) assess the use of vetiver grass for the phytoremediation and phytostabilization of dioxin-contaminated soils on a field scale at Bien Hoa Airbase and (2) deepen our understanding of the mechanisms of dioxin uptake and degradation pathways of Vetiver grass. The Monto genotype–a known, noninvasive type of vetiver grass (hereafter “Monto”)—will be used in the two proposed experiments. The indoor experiment will help address and clarify the remaining issues in phytostabilization and phytoremediation from a previous project completed by the PI. The field experiment will help reevaluate the results from the indoor experiment, and the potential use of vetiver in phytostabilization of dioxin-contaminated sites will be assessed.

The project will benefit about 135,000 people in the vicinity of the airbase, particularly the personnel of the 935th Air Regiment, by helping to reduce the potential health risks associated with dioxin. Furthermore, the results of the proposed project should significantly contribute to advances in phytoremediation technology that can be applied elsewhere in Vietnam and worldwide. The practical measures to be developed and tested will also help local, regional, and national policy makers and NGO-sponsored programs develop and evaluate short- and long-term mitigation and remediation alternatives and ultimately implement remedial actions effectively. Through workshops with local people, potential adverse health-related, environmental, and social issues will be addressed to help raise community awareness of dioxin-related issues and solutions. By providing funding support for PhD and MSc students, the project is also expected to foster a new generation of environmentalists interested in phytoremediation technology.

Summary of Recent Activities

6-220 Kick-off Meeting
Dr. Huong and participants in the project kick-off meeting, March 2018 (photo courtesy of Dr. Huong).
Dr. Huong and her group began the year by hosting a field trip to their project site at Bien Hoa Airbase January 17-23, 2018. On January 18, the researchers met with visiting U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink and officials from the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense to present options for phytoremediation of dioxin contaminated soil at the airbase (based on results from their previous project), as well as planned activities on their new PEER project. The team also conducted a field survey, selected sites for indoor and outdoor experiments, demarcated experimental plots, and worked out the necessary administrative procedures with staff from the 935th Fighter Jet Regiment. On March 8, they held the official project kick-off meeting for all project members, USAID representatives, and officials from Office 33, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, universities, and other relevant agencies. Project members made another extended field visit to Bien Hoa Airbase March 12 through April 4, during which they completed the process of setting up their indoor and outdoor experiments and transplanted vetiver grass in three indoor tanks and three outdoor experimental plots. During this visit, they also took initial samples of soil and vetiver roots and stems, later sending the samples to the lab for analyses of rhizosphere and endophytic bacteria and fungi, enzymatic activity, dioxins, and soil physical parameters and stabilization.

In addition to the experimental work, the project has already involved capacity building and linkage building. One researcher participated in the Human Health Risk Assessment course organized by USAID in Hanoi March 20-21. Two PhD students, two Master’s students, and five undergraduates from the Hanoi University of Mining and Geology have expressed interest in taking part in the project (the selection process in ongoing). Lecturers from Hanoi National University, Hanoi University of Mining and Geology, University of Science and Technology Hanoi, Hanoi Open University, and Naresuan University (Thailand) are also interested in collaborating. The team is also working with a private company and an NGO to promote the use of vetiver for sustainable livelihoods and environmental services. Finally, knowledge on planting and using vetiver for wastewater and contaminated soil treatment has been transferred to Nam Sach High School (Hung Yen Province) and 1,000 vetiver tillers have been donated to the school.

Another public launch event will be held in April or May 2018 to increase the visibility of the project among stakeholders and the public. The PI and her team will also continue their field work and organize a separate workshop with local residents in June. U.S. partner Dr. James Landmeyer will travel to Vietnam in August or September 2018 with support from a PEER Partner Cooperation Supplement. During the visit he will meet with the research group, stakeholders, USAID staff, and Vietnamese government officials. He will also present a one-day training session on how to use the solid-phase microextraction (SPME) technique, an innovative, solvent-free sample preparation technology that is new to the Vietnamese partners. In November or December 2018, Dr. Huong will make a visit to her colleague at USGS.

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