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The Deadly Side of Irvine That Nobody Wants to AddressTim King special to Salem-News.com
The El Toro Marine Corps base has left more than it's saga behind.
(SALEM, Ore.) -
This is south Orange County, a place where people have plenty of money and success, but whether they know it or not, the people of Irvine are also part of a dirty, well kept secret.
This toxic soup of military chemical contaminants in the groundwater, is from the old closed-down El Toro Marine base.
The dirty water tables pass directly under Irvine's Woodbridge neighborhood, where so many people are sick, and flow beneath Irvine City Hall.
Why would that be?
Surely Irvine's real estate agents would have been required to disclose the fact that Woodbridge, an expensive neighborhood in Irvine, is smack dab on top of a dangerous underwater "plume" of military base toxins, right?
Wrong. The vast majority of people in Woodbridge who laid out hundreds of thousands of dollars for their homes, (Irvine's median home value in 2017 was $740,000 according to the LA Times) were not told that they were buying property that is potentially, horrifically contaminated.
I haven't talked to a single homeowner who was advised that the community was constructed over the toxic water of an EPA Superfund site. Woodbridge has a beautiful lake that people swim in!
I have talked to former real estate agents who left Irvine because they couldn't stand the unethical tactics of many Irvine realtors, who conveniently "forget" to tell buyers that this is the last place anyone in California should buy property.
This is a much bigger problem than anyone realizes. I recall hearing Irvine City Councilmember Beth Krom state in 2008, that the El Toro Marine base land was going to become part of a massive commercial development, "under any conditions."
According to the Website, Realtor.com, real estate agents even have to disclose the fact that a property is believed to be haunted, "In New York's Stambovsky v. Ackley (commonly known as the "Ghostbusters" ruling), the court decided that if homeowners have claimed publicly that their home is haunted, they can't turn around and deny that it's haunted when they try to sell it."
Ghosts, by all accounts, can't harm people. But TCE (trichloroethylene), benzene, PCE (perchloroethylene) and other VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) used indiscriminately by the Marines sure can. This is something we Marines who served at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro are painfully aware of.
Hundreds and hundreds of former El Toro Marines, on any given day, are suffering from contact with these chemicals. Many are going to die from these illnesses, countless numbers already have.
If you want a snapshot of this, visit the Facebook page, "Toxic El Toro" and you can read endless accounts of death and suffering written by former El Toro residents: Marines, civilians and military family members. In fact, before going further, please take a look at these comments from Toxic El Toro, this is an ever-evolving page which you can see here, and here.
Brief History of El Toro
Prior to becoming a Marine Corps base during World War Two, the land that came to comprise El Toro was California's number one Lima bean field, according to Environmental Consultant Roger Butow of Laguna Beach. Butow was a Marine during the Vietnam War and served his final few months of duty in the mid-60s at El Toro. He says various chemicals were used on the land for decades before Uncle Sam came and built the Marine base. Paved flight lines permanently sealed the agricultural toxins in the ground.
For the next several generations, Marines maintained flight operations, sometimes around the clock. El Toro was a fighter base, but it also hosted C-130 Hercules cargo planes and in its last years, helicopters, which were relocated to El Toro from the nearby Tustin Marine Corps Air Station (H).
My role as a Marine was that of a tactical aircraft refueler. Jet fuel spills happened constantly. One time, a 20,000 gallon fuel "bag" of JP4 jet fuel broke open, allowing the extremely volatile fuel to leak and flow into the earth. We did our best to collect the spilled fuel but countless hundreds, even thousands of gallons were absorbed into the ground. That was just one example.
The Marines who personally maintained the jets used TCE to clean the planes, TCE is a triple chlorine degreaser and the main contaminant at the base. While no longer in use today, this deadly degreaser was sometimes sprayed on the planes, and what was left over was simply dumped into the grates in the ground, where it flowed into the underground water tables.
There are also stories of buried 55 gallon drums of TCE on the base. The companies that manufacture the deadly chemicals like TCE, groups like Dow Chemical, did not supply adequate instructions about the deadly nature of TCE contact. Marines for the most part, did not realize the impact their lack of environmental stewardship was having on the base.
As the years passed, the drinking water for the base which came from base wells, became terribly contaminated, and in the late 1960's, the base water supply was changed to an off-site water provider, the Irvine Ranch Water District. Simply switching the drinking water supply did nothing to change the contamination on the base, it did fortunately, stop Marines from literally gulping down the base water which was turning into poison.
Subsequent research conducted for our reports, suggests that the El Toro base wells were never completely taken out of use. We investigated a chow hall in the MWSG-37 area of the base a few years ago and placards on certain faucets stated that the water was not potable. MWSG-37, where my co-author Robert O'Dowd and I were both stationed at El Toro, is considered "ground zero" as it is the lowest point on the base, essentially a collecting point for the toxins. From that point, the chemical plume moves off the base and into Irvine.
Just so you know, chemical spills can't be remediated, the toxic soil can only be removed and placed in another location. For the last several years, after MCAS El Toro was decommissioned and deemed an EPA "Superfund" site, pumps in the most affected section of the base began sucking the TCE out of the groundwater. The extremely contaminated water is then pumped directly into the ocean, one mile off Aliso Beach in South Laguna. Remember, this type of contamination can not be treated, only transferred.
When the El Toro Marine base was constructed, military aircraft in America were all propeller planes. Due to the mountains surrounding El Toro, a particular path was designated for airplanes to safely take off and land. Planes would taxi over to the base housing area, adjacent to the El Toro School, then accelerate and take off.
But military airplanes quickly changed after WWII. Jet aircraft began to quickly replace the WWII era propeller planes, particularly when it came to fighters, and that was what El Toro was all about. But unlike the propeller planes, when the loud, high tech jets prepared to take off, directly in front of the base housing/school area, they belched out clouds of burned jet fuel, and the jet blast literally invaded the homes and classrooms.
This practice continued for decades.
One former El Toro School teacher, LouAnne Silva, says teachers began each day wiping a black soot film from the student's desks and from the chalkboards. What they were doing, was literally removing the pollutants from jet fighter night operations.
Unsurprisingly, the school experienced a startling death rate from cancer. Students generally contracted leukemia, while teachers typically died from other cancers. I actually sat down a few years ago with more than a dozen surviving El Toro School teachers to hear their horror stories and it was unforgettable.
Still not convinced that this is an almost indescribably huge problem?
I understand many people in Irvine become quite angry when this subject comes up. They know that their property values will be drastically impacted if the news about toxicity in Irvine ever really gets out, so they suffer in silence while their children, the most vulnerable to cancer, get sick, sometimes irreversibly.
TCE can vaporize and travel, and one day I learned just how seriously close to the surface this toxic mess is. I was visiting the closed El Toro base around 2009 or so. I parked my car where I used to work, in the MWSG-37 area. I went into my old hangar, shot video, and returned to my car an hour or so later.
As I drove away, I felt a distinct thumping coming from my right front tire. I suspected a flat, but what I found was startling. A large piece of asphalt/blacktop had adhered to my tire during that hour or so that I was parked. It was summertime but temperatures were only around 80 degrees. The TCE contamination is so bad, that it is literally right beneath your feet.
This area by the way, is not far from the new Portola High School which was recently built on the closed down base. They actually built a high school on a contaminated military base with an almost endless list of toxins. The children are being exposed to deadly toxins.
El Toro is also the location of a project called "Great Park" which tried to marked the contaminated wreck of a base with an obnoxious orange balloon. The whole package is insane and the work of maniacs who will do anything to turn a profit, as well as those people unwilling or unable to do simple homework and understand the danger that the site represents.
Dr. Harvey Liss, a longtime resident of Woodbridge, is one of the few people in Irvine with the courage to stand up and speak out about the absurdity of constructing homes and a school on this foul piece of land that was once MCAS El Toro.
Dr. Liss writes for Irvine Community News and Views. He has taken a beating, so to speak, from people who want to live in silence and allow their kids to attend a toxic high school so they don't lose money, "just 250 yards from the future Portola High School is a capped, toxic waste dump ... Then higher-ups were notified, and probing of the contaminated soil continued ... And mind you, this dump was just a great big hole in the ground," Dr. Liss wrote for the Irvine newsletter.
Awareness Saves Lives
I've been writing about the dangers of Irvine for years, and numerous people have contacted me, saying that the articles, videos and the book I co-authored with Robert O'Dowd, BETRAYAL, which is available on Amazon, prevented them from buying a home in Woodbridge, or caused them to move away from the area.
"We lived in Irvine (Woodbridge) for 5 years. Within a year we moved to Irvine, my husband got an auto immune condition. We still not able to find the reason for the sudden onset of swellings in his body. Then we came across your articles and in the mean time couple of our friends also had diagnosed some kind of autoimmune. Based on your articles and some from other internet, we decided to move away from Irvine..."
Another person who is a physician, wrote, "We moved to this country with a hope of good exposure and better life. I don't want to risk my kids life. I will even move out of state for our health sake."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Asians make up 45.7% of Irvine's population, while whites and Latinos accounting for 38.2% and 7%, respectively. 65% of Irvine residents are college graduates.
An Irvine realtor who asked to not be named, told me that the reason Asian people comprise the majority of Irvine's population is that parts of the city, Woodbridge in particular, were primarily marked to people in Asia, which explains why the city is such a cultural melting pot. Perhaps those marketeers knew that people moving from the other side of the world would be the last to question the environmental integrity of the land they purchased.
The alarming information about the contamination of El Toro and the toxic underwater plume impacting the health of residents in Irvine, comes from information published by the US Dept. of the Navy. The data, all of it, is maintained at the Woodbridge Irvine Library, and available for the public to review.
One young woman in Woodbridge who I have kept up with intermittently for several years, is a perfect representative of the community. She has repeatedly battled cancer, two of her neighbors have cancer, and I went to send her a Facebook message today and she is no longer there, and I have to wonder if she passed away.
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