What Are Our Troops and Their Families Drinking at Kirtland Air Force Base and the V.A. Hospital?

What Are Our Troops and Their Families Drinking at Kirtland Air Force Base and the V.A. Hospital?

22,500 residents drink water from 5 community supply wells at Kirtland AFB.  The quality of the water is regulated by the New Mexico Environment Department’s Drinking Water Bureau (DWB).  A November 20, 2012 DWB sanitary survey report of the supply wells was obtained by Citizen Action through a public records request.  The report was the result of a DWB site and documents inspection of Kirtland’s water system. 

Seven “significant deficiencies” that can cause a threat to public health were identified for the Kirtland water supply system.  DWB found the possibility of contaminated groundwater reaching Well #3 and being pumped into the potable water system. 

The report does not identify what contaminants may arrive or be at Well #3. But it is no secret that Kirtland gushered 24,000,000 gallons of aviation gas, JP4 and JP8 jet fuel into the ground and aquifer from 1953 up until 1999 from its Bulk Fuels Facility.  A large plume of highly toxic ethylene dibromide (EDB) is moving northeast toward Kirtland  drinking water Well #3.  EDB does not naturally biodegrade. 

The DWB asked what corrective steps Kirtland would take if the drinking water standard is exceeded. Kirtland has no plan in place to remove EDB before it hits Well #3 or Albuquerque’s Ridgecrest municipal supply wells.  Kirtland has not removed a single gallon of jet fuel dissolved in the aquifer since discovery in 1997.

Well #14 is located 200 ft from the airport and a hanger where inorganic and organic chemicals are stored.  DWB demanded spill containment and clean up procedures be put in place.  DWB did not provide information whether leakages into the groundwater have already occurred.

DWB ordered Kirtland to halt the use of the herbicide Hexazonone that can contaminate the groundwater and surface water and was being used too close to the water system.  DWB did not state whether Hexazonone may be in the supply wells. 

There are 3 Kirtland facilities with cross connections to the ABC Water Utility.  At the west connection with the city water supply, an active leak was found with several feet of standing water that could be a direct link to contaminating the city’s potable water supply. 

The well house roof for Well #4 had “significant damage,” possibly making it “structurally unsound” for collapse.  DWB stated Well #11 needs to be abandoned to prevent contamination of groundwater.

DWB observed leaks throughout Kirtland’s pump stations due to poor maintenance for trees, brush and overgrown shrubs that could cause damage to storage tank foundations and be good habitat “for rodents and other vermin.”

In Kirtland’s main plant station a booster pump was non-operational.  That could lead to service interruptions and backflow events.  Where a pipe or hose that contains polluted water is connected to the water supply pipeline and if the water system loses pressure, harmful pollution can seep backward into the water system.

Veteran’s Administration.  Based on FOIA Records Obtained by Citizen Action.

A May 13, 2010 VA administrator Albert Martinez email about the jet fuel spill stated, “I believe it is KAFB’s responsibility to provide the community and us any health effects and/or associated hazards consuming fuel may have on our community, staff and patients.”  Kirtland replied, “Health effects concerning drinking water aren’t currently being evaluated.”

Testing of water at the Veteran’s Hospital well in 2011 identifed the presence of flourene, and gasoline organic compounds at low levels. Benzo-a-Pyrene was found above the EPA maximum contaminant level.  In May 2012, Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthlate was detected. In June 2012 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene was detected.  In September 2012, Pentachloroethane (PCE), also known as Perc, was detected. PCE is very difficult to treat once it reaches groundwater. Data collected in 2004 showed PCE contamination in Kirtland drinking water supply Well #17. Very little data is available for PCE in drinking water on and around Kirtland. (NMED Curry 11/26/08).

Kirtland asserts that the VA drinking water is still safe and there is monthly sampling.  However, Kirtland’s contractor, Shaw Environmental, has repeatedly been criticized by the Environment Department for poor sampling for volatile organics in the jet fuel plume. The June 2012 VA samples arrived at the laboratory 5 days too late for accurate testing, despite the fact that the sampling turnaround time was ordered to be reduced starting in October 2011.  Samples with air bubbles have destroyed evidence of volatile chemicals.

EPA has a goal of zero exposure to many chemicals but still has allowable levels that can be present in drinking water.  One might ask, why should persons be exposed at all to these chemicals, even if the contaminants are below EPA maximum limits?  People vary in sensitivity depending on factors such as age, sex, and pregnancy.  Military personnel often are already carrying high burdens of toxic chemcals. 

The military is often the last to admit to the extreme health effects of toxic exposures. Such was the case with Vietnam veteran exposure to Agent Orange, the atomic veterans, burning oil wells in Kuwait, the present day veteran exposure to depleted uranium and other radionuclides, and Camp Lejeune’s PCE and TCE exposure causing breast cancer in males, birth defects and miscarriages.  The Air Force has 42 Superfund sites that have contaminated community water resources across the nation.

VA emails show consideration of a contingency plan in the event of contamination from the Kirtland Av gas/jet fuel plume above the EPA drinking water limit. The proposals would basically be the shutdown of the VA well and connecting to the City water system.  However, former NMED resource protection director Jim Davis said officials still believe no contamination will reach city wells for at least five years.

This piece was written by:

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Dave McCoy

David McCoy is an environmental lawyer and executive director of Citizen Action New Mexico, who's mission is:

To provide information and take action to protect the public concerning past, present and future activities at the Sandia National Laboratories. This includes the impacts of nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry on human health and the environment, social and economic development, international peace treaties, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and policy-making.

(Profile photo by Veronica McCoy)

Contact Dave McCoy

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