October 22, 2007

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Super Meth Lab Bust Leads to Cambodia Site Cleanup

Illegal drug trafficking, smuggling, limited government enforcement resources, organized crime, human suffering and exploitation, undercover espionage, suicide, rumors of murder, and black market chemistry comprise the plot lines of fictional thrillers, action movies, and one of Geosyntec Consultants' latest and most challenging projects.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime contracted Geosyntec in spring 2007 to clean up over 2,000 liters of the most dangerous precursor, thionyl chloride, uncovered as part of the bust with stipulations that the materials must be rendered harmless, safe for disposal on the ground, and stable enough for the "cow farm" to be placed back into agricultural use. These constraints were imposed because of the lack of any infrastructure for off-site hazardous waste treatment or disposal and the threat of diversion back into methanphetamine production.

Thionyl chloride reacts violently with water to either explode or liberate acid gases, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen chloride. Decomposition of the thionyl chloride remaining on site could liberate enough sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid gas to fill five and 10 Goodyear blimps, respectively, at the OSHA PEL concentration of 5 ppmv. Geosyntec's treatment strategy, implemented in August 2007, mixed stoichiometrically balanced amounts of thionyl chloride with calcium oxide, sodium bicarbonate, hydrogen peroxide, and water to form gypsum, salt, and carbon dioxide during a carefully controlled multi-step neutralization reaction to minimize acid gas release. Nearly four metric tons of thionyl chloride were treated, making the project the world's largest application of this technology.

After the reaction was complete, neutralization products could be safely applied to the land on the cow farm. Project staff were Robert Bruce of GSM Consultancy (GSM) who served as project manager, Lee Kim Yik of GSM, and Duane Graves of Geosyntec (Knoxville). This project demonstrates Geosyntec's ability to deliver high value solutions to clients in remote locations in collaboration with GSM.

GSM Consultancy, a subsidiary of Geosyntec Consultants based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, provides unique expertise in environmental, geotechnical, and hydrological engineering consulting and design services, construction management, and quality assurance services involving environmentally-impaired properties, including those with redevelopment potential. With access to resources and expertise from its parent, GSM Consultancy also draws upon the technical resources of two divisions, MMI Engineering and SiREM, to enhance its service offerings in Southeast Asia.