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CNN Today

Closed Munitions Plant Uses Bacteria to Clean Up Wartime Waste

Aired March 3, 2000 - 2:40 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In Wisconsin, another type of environmental threat is being cleaned up by a new and natural process. The cleanup of a closed munitions plant could have taken centuries. Now, it may take only a few months.

Here's CNN's Mary Pflum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY PFLUM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Throughout World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, the Badger Munitions Plant in Baraboo, Wisconsin, produced more than one billion pounds of explosives.

Today, the plant may be closed, but a new war is looming, this one aimed at cleaning up munitions waste lingering on the facility.

DAVID FORDHAM, DIRECTOR, ARMY INSTALLATION: There is a chemical in the ground from our past burning operations.

PFLUM: The chemical: dinitrotoluene.

Traces of DNT have already been detected in groundwater at the site, spelling potential health trouble for area farmers and residents.

But officials are on the warpath. They've teamed up with researchers to find an entirely biological weapon capable of eliminating the contaminant: bacteria.

Bacteria have naturally been eating away at Badger's DNT for years. Now, with the addition of water and nutrient-pumping pipes, their growth will be accelerated.

FODHAM: But, what it does, basically, is recycles groundwater and adds nutrients, controls the temperature, so that the bacteria are encouraged.

PFLUM (on camera): If the bacteria were left to grow at their own pace, experts say, it would take a matter of centuries to clear away all of the contaminants here at the Badger Armory. But, with the acceleration process, the site is expected to be cleaned up in a matter of months.

(voice-over): The bacteria cleanup is good news to locals. STEVEN ROY, BARABOO RESIDENT: Anything that is more natural and opposed to a mechanical function or a burning function, certainly, is going to be a lot more -- better for the community.

PFLUM: Good news, too, to the military; the bacteria cleanup is an estimated $60 million cheaper than the mechanical alternative.

Should Badger's cleanup method prove successful, other military facilities are expected to follow suit as the war on wartime waste continues.

Mary Pflum, for CNN, Baraboo, Wisconsin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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