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Staying Green at the Pentagon?

Protecting the Environment at the world's largest office complex.

The Pentagon is the world's largest office building. Every weekday, according to its own statistics, an estimated 25,000 people pass through its gates to work. An institution and symbol of national defense, its 6,636,360 square feet of floor space contains 284 restrooms, 691 drinking fountains, 7,000 electric clock outlets, 13 elevators, 19 escalators and 16,250 light fixtures — 250 of which must be replaced each day. Outside its walls are 67 acres of parking lots, capable of holding 8,770 cars. It also has a one-acre heating and air conditioning plant and 30 miles of highway inside the boundaries of its reservation, along with 21 bridges and overpasses built for access. All of this infrastructure plays a critical role when it comes to the Pentagon's day to day operations. It also means a serious impact on the local environment, and the Pentagon does a lot to keep it under control. Yet a closer look at its design and engineering reveals the Pentagon is still facing many challenges when it comes to staying in compliance with Virginia's environmental regulations.

As preparations begin at the Pentagon for an upcoming audit of its energy use, its team of engineers and maintenance people are now looking at ways to reduce consumption, according to Ralph Newton, head of the its Facilities Directorate. Future plans, Newton said, include sealing leaking steam pipes to recapture lost energy.

"We have an active and growing energy program," Newton said. "We already have demonstration projects for photo voltaic technology and the use of solar energy to augment the heating of our potable water."

The building is also fitted with motion sensor lights that turn off when people leave the room to conserve electricity. Yet with ongoing renovations, other aspects of Pentagon's environmental impact are harder to manage.

"We try hard to control air emissions and monitor this closely in conformance with the state's requirements," said Newton. "We have established procedures to prevent any new sources of air emissions, which can be challenging given the sheer size of the renovation activities that are going on."

Records from the Environmental Protection agency, the Pentagon is designated a "large quantity generator" of hazardous waste. This is due, in part, according to Richard Doucette, waste program manager for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, to an incinerator located on the Pentagon reservation. The air pollution it produces, Doucette said, may be the result of operations vital national security and, compared to other sources of pollution, it releases a rather small amount.

"The incinerator is used for the disposal of classified documents," said Doucette. "They do all of that on-site."

YET IT’S WHAT'S IN THE WATER that has gotten the Pentagon in some trouble with Virginia's environmental watchdogs. In 2001, a new "chiller" plant for the building's heating and air conditioning system had to be installed. Water drawn from the Potomac is fed into the system as a coolant and is then pumped back into Roaches Run, a waterfowl sanctuary along the river that was created during the Pentagon's construction. Although it isn't harmful to people, according to Newton, the water spilling into the sanctuary carries pollution in the form of copper from pipes. The Pentagon has seen several informal citations from the DEQ since the plant was put in place.

"We are working with the state to resolve a small increase of copper levels in our discharge through water treatment to assure that all discharge is within limits," said Newton. "The copper levels are well below what is acceptable in potable water, but they are above levels established by our permit. We consider this an obligation we will meet. First is water treatment and treating the copper tubes that leach copper. If this is not successful, a replacement of the tubes with an alloy will be pursued. A rather expensive proposition, but if that's required to achieved compliance we are fully prepared to seek the necessary funding."

Storm water run-off from its massive parking lots, Newton said, has also become a problem that Pentagon engineers are now working to fix. Run-off from the lots after rainfall carries the chemicals left behind by parked cars— oil, gasoline, anything that might leak from an automobile— into the river via the water table and occasional flooding. Newton said the Pentagon is now carrying out a program to curb the damage this could cause like installing filters to catch water at the edge of the lots, new roofing surfaces that give off little or no chemicals when it rains and planning more green space surrounding the building.

When it comes to trash, Newton said the Pentagon currently has a contract with the Navy to dispose of hazardous waste and to oversee recycling.

"Most of our contracts include language requiring the purchasing or recycled or environmentally preferable products," Newton said. "We also require all construction contractors to recycle at least 50 percent of the construction debris."