Wednesday May 22, 2013
MCAS El Toro: Southern California's Environmental NightmareTim King Salem-News.com
Who knows what lurks beneath your drain?
(IRVINE, CA) - Most Southern Californians are familiar with El Toro, the now-closed Marine Corps air base just an hour south of LA. However many do not realize what a nightmare the air station became before the Marines vacated the place, and the last plane flew off into the hazy sunset in 1999.
LA-based published cartoonist, Shelli Pruett, author of Quantum Leap Cartoons, featured at www.QLCartoons.com, executed the accompanying artwork after a conversation we had about the base. Realizing that so few of the area's millions of residents actually understand the enormity of this issue, and the direct impact on current and former U.S. Marines in particular, Shelli created something that chills me to the bone.
Raw contamination earned the base the designation of EPA 'Superfund Site' many years ago, but that didn't impact the desires of developers and the city of Irvine, which took possession of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, at least the parts that didn't remain under federal jurisdiction, with the intention of turning it into a park and playground for families, and an upper-scale subdivision.
The base is so toxic, that parking lot tar will adhere to your car tires in certain ares if the outside temperature is in the high 70's, if you leave your vehicle parked for as little as 20 minutes, that is a lesson I learned.
In their graphic wisdom, the 'Great Park Corporation' brought in an obnoxious orange balloon for prospective buyers to see their future home site from the air, I guess that is what they thought anyway.
Twice a day, the flying orange goes airborne to show this torn down, dilapidated, contaminated base where the flightline is used to store motor homes, to whoever would like to see it.
The land seems ideal for this purpose, that is until you find out about the rampant contamination, and the large number of Marines who became sick from cancer after El Toro service.
The contaminants include chlorine-based degreasers used to clean the jets, the main culprits are TCE (trichloroethylene) and PCE (perchloroethylene). There is a TCE plume in the groundwater that stretches for miles off the base. There is also a perchlorate plume at El Toro.
The story is as murky as the water that flows beneath the base. The answers are obscured by time, the efforts of people who want to promote El Toro as real estate residue, and a half century of heavy military aviation use. One of the first former El Toro Marines to take notice of the abnormalities related to the base's closure is our writer, Odd Man Out, Roger Butow of Laguna Beach. As a water quality activist of great success, Roger began putting the pieces together in the early timeframe.
The lion's share of what we know; the bottom line so to speak, comes from the efforts of U.S. Navy contractors who performed their work without bias, laying down the ugly facts in full detail. There are a set of these books, bound like notebooks, in the Irvine Woodbridge Library, anyone can see them.
The illnesses people have suffered are in no way restricted to Marines. There were Navy personnel and even Army soldiers stationed at El Toro.
There were many civilians who worked aboard the base and an equally large number that worked there occasionally. Today the problems potentially faced by Orange County residents who simply live near the base, remain.
There were the families.
Many lived in base housing, and as luck would have it, the lower-rank enlisted area for families and the school for El Toro's kids, was located in an area that received large amounts of jet blast.
When the base was constructed during the peak of the Second World War, the airplanes did not have jet engines, they were standard piston engine planes, and there was no jet blast.
It only took a few years, after the end of that war in 1945, for MCAS El Toro to receive its first jet fighters, which would become the base legacy.
Each morning, several teachers teachers explained, they had to wipe a film of greasy soot from the chalkboards and the desks where their students sat. They always assumed that it was jet blast, which is, like its residue, dangerous for human contact.
Several teachers and students at this school passed away before their time. Teachers contracted various types of cancer, and the students had a tendency to contract leukemia.
I sat down two summers ago, with a group of former El Toro teachers in Irvine and heard their stories first-hand.
They told me about the students who passed away and that on the grounds, now totally abandoned and overgrown as the picture shows, there is a tribute marker and plaque.
To think of the children of Marines being subjected to dangerous pollutants in this way, is for many of us, nothing less than infuriating.
We do not have accurate numbers of how many people died under unusual circumstances at this educational facility, but there was a consensus among these educators, that an abnormal number of cancer deaths took place at the El Toro school.
Many Moving Parts
The operation: flying Marine jets sometimes around the clock, as well as helicopters in the later years, required a massive, synchronized effort that involved myriad roles and occupations.
My particular role as a tactical aircraft refueler, working on the flightline with the jets, allowed a number of unavoidable opportunities to witness the reasons for the fuel-based contamination at El Toro.
The fuel spillage was one component that contributed to the environmental downfall of El Toro. At this point it looks like the base will be forever locked in legal limbo. The contamination is anything but a secret today particularly with regard to local knowledge.
Anyone who ever considered purchasing land at El Toro would be confronted with a large number of news articles about the condition of the place that would send them running in the other direction.
Robert O'Dowd, who served at El Toro in the 1960's, gained his own sense of what was taking place, in the MWSG-37 (Marine Wing Support Group) area, though he would not learn until 2002, that an area he was exposed to, . Bob's very hangar, 296, is in the background of the photograph on the right.
To this day the VA is battling his cancer claim, even though he can prove conclusively by witness statement of his former officer in charge, and through military diagrams of the hangar, that an area junior enlisted Marines slept in while on duty watch, was situated close to Ra 226.
Robert hit two of the main points about the base in the 03 October 2010 article, El Toro's Most Toxic 200 Acres:
Everything about the base that the Marines or Dept. of the Navy ever admitted, came after long periods of ignoring problems and denying their existence.
This is particularly unfortunate, as there is a great deal that anyone who ever lived or served here should know, and the sad truth is that only a fraction of the MCAS El Toro veterans know about the real contamination of the base, and that they could be at risk.
With the help of Bonnie King as our Editor, Robert O'Dowd and I recently completed and published a new book that is available now on Kindle. A Few Good Men, Too Many Chemicals reveals the truth of El Toro and also explores the similar contamination of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. El Toro, they say it is a very haunted place. As noted, A Few Good Men, Too Many Chemicals is available on Amazon's Kindle (see: Toxic Exposure of Marines, Murder and Government Cover-up).
In addition to the deaths brought about by war and contamination, there is an unsolved murder of a Whistleblower Colonel named James Sabow who learned that planeloads of illicit drugs were being flown up from Nicaragua many years after the 'Iran-Contra' hearings were over. This story is included in A Few Good Men, Too Many Chemicals.
I suspect that more information about this historic place will come to light in the future, as Irvine straddles this massive responsibility that according to our own expert, Dr. Phillip Leveque, a lifetime Physician, Professor of Pharmacology and Forensic Toxicologist, is beyond all hope and repair.
He says the only proper thing to do with MCAS El Toro, is to erect a ten foot fence around the place and not allow any human beings onto the ground there for the next thousand years. It's a lot to think about.
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 In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for Salem-News.com since the new format was launched in December, 2005.
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, and the U.S. Marines. You can write to Tim at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Tim's Facebook page (facebook.com/TimKing.Reporter)
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