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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, in cooperation with the Research Institute of Disaster and Environment (RIDES), and co-PI Nguyen Hung Minh, Center for Environmental Monitoring
U.S. Partner: James Landmeyer, U.S. Geological Survey
Project Dates: December 2017 - December 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).
As detailed in the annual report submitted by PI Dr. Ngo Thi Thuy Huong in January 2020, the second full year of the project was full of activity. She and her team carried out field visits to their study site at Bien Hoa Airbase in January, March, April-May, September-October, and December 2019, during which they monitored the growth of Vetiver plantings and collected and processed soil and vegetation samples for further analysis back in Hanoi. In December, Dr. Huong also traveled to Canada to attend a training course on solid-phase microextraction presented by Prof. Janusz Pawliszyn and his team at the University of Waterloo. She and her host also discussed her project in detail, and he provided very helpful guidance and some sampling supplies. Following that visit, the PI proceeded to Belgium, where she met with Prof. Yue Gao of the Free University of Brussels. Prof. Gao is a collaborator on a related project with Dr. Huong, and his input on the PEER project is also highly relevant.

In 2020, during the third year of the project, the PI and her group will continue their regular visits to Bien Hoa Airbase to conduct regular maintenance of the study sites, examining the growth and development of the experimental Vetiver grass every two months. The next visit for soil and Vetiver sampling is scheduled for April 2020. Dr. Huong, her co-PI Dr. Minh, and other researchers on the project will continue analyzing the samples for dioxin and microorganism content, enzymatic activity, and physical soil properties as they begin to draft papers for publication.

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