By DAVID CORREIA & ERIC SHULTZ
According to a draft report (KAFB EPA Report) released two weeks ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and authored by EPA staffer Scott Ellinger, existing groundwater contamination from the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel plume likely won’t reach Albuquerque drinking-water wells in Ridgecrest for 30 years. This prediction revises previous estimates that suggested the plume could reach key pumping stations in as few as five years. The agency released the report after Citizen Action New Mexico filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
Kirtland Air Force Base began spilling jet fuel and aviation gas into soils and, eventually, groundwater from a bulk fuels facility on the base sometime in the late 1950s. That spill was not discovered until the early 1990s. Estimates of the size of the spill range from 8 million –24 million gallons. The latter number, if true, would make the spill twice as large as the ExxonValdez spill and the largest underground toxic release in U.S. history. (In December, La Jicarita published a report on the spill called The Environmental Disaster You’ve Never Heard Of, also published earlier in The Weekly Alibi.)
The spill, as we reported in the December story, is particularly threatening to Albuquerque drinking water because of the inclusion of a number of carcinogens found in aviation gas. Among the most dangerous is ethylene dibromide, or EDB.
EDB, now banned for all commercial purposes, was at one time a common agricultural pesticide and gasoline additive. EDB is a reproductive toxin and mutagen in laboratory animals and a human carcinogen. It is highly soluble and stable and thus persists in soils and underground water. The current location of EDB in groundwater is thousands of feet from its source area, a bulk fuels facility on the air force base and migrating off the base and toward Albuquerque drinking wells. The New Mexico Environment Department permits EDB in drinking water at levels at or below 50 parts per trillion (ppt). The most recent data from KAFB’s plume-monitoring wells find EDB concentrations in shallow wells on the base of 240,000 ppt, or nearly 5,000 times greater than the legal standard.
The report used a computer model to determine the rate of aquifer groundwater flow in the area of the jet fuel plume. The model concluded that EDB will reach the well serving the Veteran’s Administration in 2-3 years and the City’s important Ridgecrest well in 30 years. Despite the fact that the report is only a draft and its author indicated to the press that a more detailed analysis is currently underway, the New Mexico Environment Department regulator Tom Blaine declared that the report “takes us out of crisis mode.” The Albuquerque Journal quickly agreed, writing on January 14 “there’s more breathing room.”
In response to the report, Citizen Action New Mexico asked former LANL whistleblower and registered Geologist Robert Gilkeson to review the technical report and offer a critical appraisal of its findings. Last month La Jicarita and Citizen Action convened a lunch meeting at Café Da Lat in Albuquerque to discuss Gilkeson’s review. La Jicarita contributor and video editor Eric Shultz filmed and edited that meeting, which included Gilkeson, emeritus professor of chemical and nuclear engineering Eric Nuttall, Executive Director of Citizen Action New Mexico Dave McCoy, Jim McKay of Citizen Action and La Jicarita editor David Correia.