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Feb-10-2009 09:26printcomments

TCE-Related Toxic Waste in Irvine Much Worse Than Previously Revealed

A plume of the highly toxic chemical trichloroethylene that originated from the El Toro Marine base, has migrated beneath most of Irvine.

Salem-News.com
Image courtesy: eltoronow.com

(IRVINE, Calif.) - Salem-News.com began a series of reports in May of 2008 on the toxic waste contamination of the now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine, California. Our reports increased in frequency, and then we added more writers who specifically addressed the contamination stemming from the Marine base.

The Orange County press is covering the El Toro subject closely now, and an environmental coalition has announced plans to build a Racketeering case against the developer Lennar over their plans to build a park and series of homes on the hazardous land. (see: Groups Prepare Civil RICO Case Against Lennar Corporation for Civil Racketeering)

A 2001 document Salem-News.com received this week that originated from Don Zweifel, MCAS, El Toro charter RAB member & pro bono consultant to El Toro Local Redevelopment, indicates that the underground "plume" of TCE moving underground westward away from the old base, had traveled six miles, rather than three as previously indicated. Research underway today indicates that the plume has traveled a significant distance since the six mile mark was noted in 2001.

As it turns out, numerous Marines are ill and many have died of diseases that are directly related to the main contaminant on the base; a chemical called trichloroethelyne, generally referred to as TCE.

This chlorine-based chemical degreaser was used to strip grease and oil from Marine Corps jet fighters for decades at El Toro and then often dumped through grates into the groundwater.

Dr. Phillip Leveque, a retired Oregon Physician who still testifies in court as a Forensic Toxicologist, says TCE is an extremely dangerous chemical that people should never be in close contact with. He testified in 1974 in what he believes, was the first TCE-related death that involved the manufacturer, Dow Chemical, being found guilty and responsible for the man's death.

A supermarket janitor, the man who died from TCE contact in 1974 lost his life only 8 weeks after he began using trichloroethylene without a face mask. "His liver failed," Leveque said. "His family took the company to task because there was no warning for this man or others who used it."

A former El Toro Marine named Matthew Bonura wrote to Salem-News.com February 2nd, explaining that he was stationed at El Toro between 1996 and 1998. "While I was stationed at El Toro I came down with skin cancer I was only 21 or 22. The base Doctor was shocked to see someone at my age with skin cancer. Now later on in life I'm in my 30's and have a lot of skin problems and my body no longer makes testosterone on its own. I have been to many doctors and they do not know why this is, could TCE be the cause?" Bonura asked.

Matthew Bonura's letter is only the most recent from a former or current Marine, that we have received since this series of reports began last year. Another former El Toro Marine named Glenn Hawk also wrote to us in January, explaining that he was stationed at El Toro from 1971 thru 1973 as a Marine Ground support Hydraulic specialist with VMGR-352.

"I worked with a private contractor who used TCE to clean the exhaust trail on the C-130 turbo prop aircraft. I saw crash crew use spent TCE in 55 gallon drums, dump it into pits and catch it on fire so they could practice putting the fire out. I saw TCE being dumped down the drains." This story echoes of many others that have been sent to Salem-News in recent months.

Dan Perry, a Marine stationed at El Toro on and off from 1979 – 1983, told Salem-News.com that his last duty was with MWSG-37. That is the exact same squadron I served in, during part of the same period.

Perry said, "I was sick for several weeks back then. sick bay had no idea what was wrong with me. still to this day have stomach problems. now that I think about it I spent almost 3 years total in the 37 area having lunch at the little chow hall almost everyday. (see my article showing the exact area where Dan Perry and I were both stationed during those years: Irvine, California Threatened by Contaminated Water From El Toro Marine Base)

Thomas Clark, who was a Marine at El Toro between 1981 and 1984, says TCE isn't the only problem on the old base that was built during WWII. "There are even more toxic chemicals on El Toro than TCE. I worked at the aviation ordnance compound that supported the flight line. At that compound back in the 1980's we still made Napalm using composition b and composition c mixture."

He says he personally witnessed major spills of the toxin within the work area of the ordnance compound.

"If the wind was blowing in the right direction you could smell the chemicals in the area. The spills were cleaned up by the munitions crew by washing off the pad with the use of kitty litter (quick sorbwater) and water but you could still smell chemicals in the area. The pad was adjacent to the runway 2R and I believe it was at the end near a field."

Yet another Marine, Chris Kelly, who served with VMA-214 Black Sheep Squadron from 1985 to 1988, said he spent many hours with my arms, elbow deep in that solvent.

"I remember being amazed at how quickly the solvent would evaporate off my arms when I brought them out of the soaking drum. When our squadron went on 'WESPAC' deployment we hid several 5 gallon cans of 'TCE' on a 'EMBARK' pallet and had it flown ahead of us to Iwakuni, Japan. While in Japan I was told to 'soak' some 20mm gun barrels. One of the barrels' slipped from my hands and landed in the tray, the 'TCE' splashed into my face and eyes."

Kelly says his fellow Marines rushed him to an 'eye wash' station and began flushing his eyes. As this took place, the Navy flight surgeon was notified.

"I know he continued flushing my eyes for an hour and during that hour he kept asking me where the 'TCE' came from and who told me to use it. I refused to give up my Gunnery Sgt. That was the last I ever saw of the solvent."

This last quote indicates that the military did have a thought on the toxicity of TCE more than twenty years ago, and yet it still hesitates to contact El Toro Marines and let them know what they may be faced with. We hope in the context of these reports, to hear from one of the Navy doctors who served around TCE cases.

Sad Revelation

The group ElToroNow.com delivered the document to our newsroom indicating that as far back as 2001, the TCE contamination was sitting not just under Irvine's Woodbridge neighborhood, but throughout the city, and squarely under city hall.

"This was announced during a meeting at Irvine City Hall and you could see the people sitting in the audience lift their feet from the floor; it was really something to see." Butow said.

What this means is that far more of Irvine is potentially contaminated with TCE than even those of us who are studying the issue closely, realized.

Bill Turner is an Orange County resident who has worked extensively on the contamination of Irvine's Woodbridge neighborhood. He says the homes there need to all be tested for foundation permeation; yet this is not taking place. Now perhaps it will have to take place in more places than just Woodbridge.

ElToroNow.com states that the new information about the plume, "has MAJOR ramifications because it shows how the plume reached the area (as early as 2001 if not before) where the well fields are that distribute water to Irvine residents, and have for years. This new revelation also proves the plume is under an even larger part of Irvine."

Roger Butow with Clean Water Now! says the problems could be much bigger. Butow says that with the current information, the TCE plume originating from El Toro is now very likely within 1/4 to 3/8 of a mile of San Diego Creek. This according to Butow, means serious problems for the environment, the government, and above all, the people who live in this area.

The San Diego Creek watershed covers over 110
square miles in central Orange County. It includes
portions of the Cities of Costa Mesa, Irvine, Laguna
Woods, Lake Forest, Newport Beach, Orange, Santa
Ana, and Tustin. Portions of San Diego Creek are
channelized with concrete or boulders, making it less
valuable as wildlife habitat and as a natural biological
filter for polluted water. Photo: bonitacreekclassroom

Butow says it is very possible that the plume has moved a sunstantial distance since 2001. "I estimate that the plume has traveled probably seven and a half miles. That would put it in the middle of the Tustin LTA facility."

He says that if the TCE plume reaches San Diego Creek, it could or would lead to "chronic toxicity in the environment" which is says is serious business; far beyond acute levels which are already enough to make a person sick.

ElToroNow.com says this is the connection the cover-up “artists” have been trying desperately to hide for years. They say the list of offenders incldes, "the Irvine Ranch Water District who has been claiming the TCE found at the red dot well location below is from 'local businesses', and not El Toro. Now the proof has come forward in this smoking-gun memo that is truly shocking, as it may well explain the Irvine cancers we have all been hearing about."

This is the memo that Salem-News.com received indicating that the plume was longer than previously known:

Re a summation & resolution of only some of the problems surrounding the former Marine Air Base @ El Toro, Ca.

During the last six years the Dept. of the Navy (DON) and the Orange County Water District (OCWD) in conjunction w/ the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) have been spitting & snarling @ each other over who should pick up the lion's share of the tab regarding the severe contamination of our Irvine Groundwater Sub-basin/principle aquifer and sub-surface soils @ MCAS, El Toro.

Since DON has been identified as the Potentially Responsible Party or PRP regarding the trichloroethylene (TCE) plume they have finally agreed to clean up the aforementioned & currently nonpotable aquifer but not any of the groundwater infused w/ high concentrations of mineral salts, AKA Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). That is the primary reason for the foot-dragging by DON, i.e., they effectively refused to concur re the contention that they contributed to the high TDS condition.

The previously mentioned water districts have reluctantly agreed that DON is not culpable for the excessive TDS findings. However since the TCE problem surfaced in the late 80's it has grossly complicated clean-up efforts. This serious TCE contamination extends beyond the base perimeter at least six miles to the west which by the way, is under some of the most costly real estate in Southern California, the Woodbridge upscale housing tract & the relatively new commercial complex known as the Irvine Spectrum.

Don Zweifel MCAS, El Toro charter RAB member & pro bono consultant

(Actual document)

We contacted Lenny Siegel, the water quality expert cited in the above memo, to clarify that the memo was authentic and to get his opinion on the plume:

"I don't remember the exact size of the off-site plume at El Toro, but it is huge,: Siegel said.

Siegel believes that there is no off-post pathway for the TCE to cause serious problems.

"The upper aquifer has tested clean, and the lower aquifer is being treated before being used as drinking water. That's why I think it's essential to focus on on-site exposures, past and present," Siegel said.

Others disagree, saying that after so many lies actually issued to the public over the sale and condition of the Marine base, it is hard to imagine that the pollution would somehow stay separated from the area's drinking water.

Reporters like Sean Emery of the Orange County Register (see: Officials defend cleanup of toxic plume from old El Toro base) are keeping the issues alive and running down the facts along with our team and Robert O'Dowd's mwsg37.com and the crew at ElToroNow.com. If the TCE reaches San Diego Creek, then its below ground height may be irrelevant.

______________________________

Tim King in 2008, covering the Iraq War

Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer.

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from The Associated Press the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, Electronic Media Association and The Red Cross He has more than 1400 articles published on Salem-News.com. Today everything he writes is geared toward helping the world achieve peace and exposing corrupt government operations.

Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by Salem-News.com, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 20+ countries and regions.

Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide with an emphasis on Palestine and Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan. You can write to Tim at this address: tim@salem-news.com. Visit Tim's Facebook page (facebook.com/TimKing.Reporter)


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Van March 16, 2009 9:44 am (Pacific time)

Actually the military has known of the TCE problem throughout the world since about 1978 or sooner. It just depends on who is making the statement. Each branch of the military went after the problem in different timeframes. The Army was first to react to contamination problems in the early to middle 70's While the airforce and navy responded in 1978 but programs to clean up these messes weren't implemented until the early 80's. The technology wasn't invented to clean up toxics like TCE until 1989 and that was at McClellan AFB in California. This technology was first used on Guam in the middle 90's. The amount allowable in the early 80's was 270ppb. It's anyones guess as to how much was allowed before that. And the fact that the military was unresponsive to the contamination in those early years tells me they wouldn't have implemented any program to clean up these toxics until the levels were much higher than the 270ppb. Actually I have determined that on Guam the sole-source drinking water aquifer may have been above 1,000,000ppb for the TCE in the 60's.

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