Military’s Bioenvironmental Engineers Keep Base Buzzing

By on Monday, April 20th, 2009

SOUTHWEST ASIA: The “BEEs” here aren’t as concerned with honey as they are the chemicals which could potentially be found on base.

While the 379th Medical Group bioenvironmental engineering, or BEE, flight is responsible for many things, their primary concern here is the base water supply.

“In the deployed environment, ensuring the safety of water is our number one priority,” said Capt. Chunil Paeng, the base bioenvironmental engineer, who is deployed from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. “Food borne and water borne illness is devastating for wartime mission requirements. We can’t have our Airmen getting sick because they won’t be able to carry out their missions.”

The bioenvironmental engineering flight has identified 20 critical sites around the base that are tested on a regular basis for chlorine and pH levels as well as bacteriological samples. The shop also has the ability to test for poisonous metals such as lead and mercury.

In addition to the water that is pumped on base, the flight also tests water from pallets of water entering the base daily, said Senior Airman George Maceachern, the bioenvironmental engineering technician who is in charge of the water sampling program.

“To test the water, we take a water sample and add a metabolizer that will promote bacterial growth,” said Airman Maceachern, who is a Plymouth, Mass., native deployed from Grand Forks AFB, N.D. “After 24 hours incubation period, if the water turns yellow, then we have bacterial contamination.”

One of the biggest achievements the bioenvironmental engineering flight has had recently within the water program comes from taps in coalition compound, which have been being tested and declared potable.

“In order for the water to be considered potable, it has to be put through a full spectrum analysis,” Captain Paeng said. “The analysis tests for the same 164 chemicals that are checked in the U.S. We are concerned with people’s health, but we also want to make sure the base meets all regulations set out by the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is enforced by the EPA.”

Base leaders said even though the water here is now considered potable, bottled water will continue to be delivered since all residents don’t have plumbing running into their rooms. The only difference will be eating establishments will be able to use plumbing run directly to their buildings for cooking, rather than using delivered water.

While the water program is important here, the flight also carries out all the other functions normally completed by bioenvironmental engineering flights at home stations.

The respirator protection program ensures respirators and other personal protective equipment suit the hazards they will be used in. The flight oversees the laser and radioactive materials program, as well as the occupational site assessment program, which ensures work sites handling or using hazardous materials are doing so safely and properly.

One of the most well known jobs done by bioenvironmental engineering though is acting as an emergency responder at an accident scene.

“If there is a spill or an airplane crash, we will suit up and go out there to take samples and analyze,” said Senior Airman Andrew Kim, a bioenvironmental engineering technician deployed from Kessler Air Force Base, Miss. “We then offer the commander the best recommendation based on the situation. Detect, quantify, recommend … is the motto.”

“The overall focus of our work is preventative medicine,” said Captain Paeng. “What we do minimizes illness, so our warfighters stay healthy to complete the mission.”

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