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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).
From May 8 to 15, 2018, Dr. Huong and members of her team made a field visit to Bien Hoa Airbase to supervise their ongoing experiments there, in particular examining growth and development of experimental vetiver grass plantings. They sent samples back to the labs at CEM for processing and analysis of the rhizosphere and endophytic bacteria and fungi, enzymatic activity, and physical parameters and stabilization of dioxins and soils. Later in May they also organized a workshop with local residents to inform them about the project. The team maintains frequent contact with relevant government agencies (for example, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of National Defense, which are responsible for administrative procedures for approval of the project on the Vietnamese side, as well as dioxin issues in Vietnam). In addition, they are cooperating with a private company, Ecofarm Mekong, and an NGO, the Vietnam Vetiver Network, to promote the use of vetiver for sustainable livelihoods and ecological and environmental services.

One PhD student from Hanoi University of Science has been selected and officially joined the project, and one PhD candidate and two Master’s students are currently working on the project and will be taking the standard entrance examinations for the Hanoi University of Science. During the late summer and early fall, the team plans to continue soil and vetiver sampling and regular maintenance of their experimental plots. U.S. partner Dr. James Landmeyer is expected to visit Vietnam in September with support provided by a PEER Partner Cooperation Supplement. In addition to collaborating with Dr. Huong and her group on the ongoing research and providing input in the planning of future activities, Dr. Landmeyer is also expected to present a one-day training session on how to perform solid-phase microextraction (SPME), an innovative, solvent-free sample preparation technique that is new to the Vietnamese partners. Late in the year, Dr. Huong also plans to visit her U.S. partner at his agency, the U.S. Geological Survey.

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