By Dave McCoy, Esq., Executive Director, Nov. 5, 2014

Most people are unaware of the grave danger the 24,000,000 gallon Kirtland jet fuel spill presents to the community’s health and economic prosperity. The danger is being downplayed by the Air Force and the New Mexico Environment Department in their public presentations. The size of the plume of Ethylene Dibromide and its extreme toxicity is minimized. The potential for increasing widespread contamination of the aquifer and municipal supply wells is being downplayed. Instead the public is presented with the rhetoric that the EDB plume will be prevented from reaching the supply wells by “aggressive action” and “robust treatment.” However, while some recent improvement has been seen, regulatory efforts still lack a fundamental coordination and scientific approach based upon a comprehensive plan for first characterizing the hydrogeology of the aquifer. The public has been excluded as a stakeholder from participation in any ongoing technical discussions.

It is only public awareness and pressure that can bring about clean-up of the 6000 ft. long, 1000 ft. wide plume of Ethylene Dibromide (EDB) that is less than 3000 ft. from and expanding toward Albuquerque’s Ridgecrest municipal wells.

A few weeks ago, a dead cow was seen in the Rio Grande near Corrales by a woman walking her dog. She went to numerous local, state and federal agencies to try to get someone to remove the dead cow from the river. Finally, after no help from the agencies, a farmer who read the story in the newspaper went to retrieve the cow. But he found the river had risen after a storm and moved the cow downstream where he was able to haul it to his pickup even though it turned out not to be his.

We have a far worse problem in the most productive portion of our drinking water aquifer. EDB is contaminating billions of gallons of drinking water supplies beneath homes and businesses. EDB is extremely toxic to all organs of the body whether you drink, bathe in, or breathe it. EDB is considered a likely carcinogen. Every one of the millions of gallons of leaked aviation gas contained about a half teaspoon of EDB asananti-knock agent. That half teaspoon is sufficient to contaminate 13,000,000 gallons of water or about 20 Olympic sized swimming pools. The toxicity of EDB is measured in parts per trillion. EDB is dissolved in our aquifer and is traveling nearly the same speed as the groundwater. EDB is in the Albuquerque aquifer in concentrations up to 4200 times the EPA drinking water limits.

A representative of the Center for Disease Control was asked at a public meeting: What will happen to our aquifer? His reply was that it will become an “orphaned aquifer.” I guess that is an aquifer that even its parents don’t want -- kind of like a dead cow.

Since Kirtland first learned of the jet fuel spill in 1992 at its pump house 22 years ago, the Air Force and its contractors still don’t know the full length, width, depth and speed of the plume of EDB. In April 2010 the New Mexico Environment Department ordered interim plans for clean-up of the jet fuel to be provided. No comprehensive plan, called a site conceptual plan, has ever been set forth for how to investigate the full extent of the EDB plume and hydrocarbon contamination. The Environment Department has yet to order Kirtland to install a sufficient number of monitoring wells to fully characterize the extent of the EDB plume.

The Air Force is long on misleading the media and the public and short on effective action. Without any reliable data, the Air Force represented to Congress in March 2011 that “natural processes” (bio-remediation) will clean up the dissolved plume by 2025.  The Congressional report indicated containment of the LNAPL petroleum plume would be achieved by September 2014.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manuals clearly describe that Soil Vapor Extraction technology is not usable for diesel type fuels in the aquifer. Soil Vapor Extraction technology cannot clean up the jet fuel trapped beneath the water table.

A report by the National Academies of Science stated that within the past few years, studies of pump-and-treat systems have indicated that drinking water standards may be essentially impossible to achieve in a reasonable time frame at certain sites.” Where will all the billions of gallons of contaminated water be sent?

With no public input, NMED is allowing a pilot program for air sparging in the aquifer. According to the EPA, “Air sparging is generally more applicable to the lighter gasoline constituents (i.e., benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene [BTEX]), because they readily transfer from the dissolved to the gaseous phase. Air sparging is less applicable to diesel fuel and kerosene.” From Exhibit VII-2 -- Air sparging “Cannot be used if free product exists (i.e., any free product must be removed).”

Air sparging is a technology that has been used successfully for VOCs, but while it can break up liquid product it can cause greater mobilization of contaminants. Cleanup strategies commonly used for BTEX don’t work well for EDB and DCA. There is a lack of research on how to clean up EDB and DCA on a field scale. Treatment of BTEX may expand EDB and DCA plumes resulting in more area to treat.

Air sparging is best suited to sites with sandy soils and medium to shallow aquifer depths at less than 50 ft below ground surface (bgs).

According to the 4th Q 2011 AF contractor’s report: “The trapped NAPL will be an ongoing source of dissolved groundwater contamination indefinitely.”

There are repeated:

NMED Notices of Disapprovals; regulatory delays and unreasonable compromises; failure to follow regulatory orders; repeated extensions; reductions in the number of equipment ordered for soil vapor extraction and monitoring wells; data gaps for characterization of the plume; unreliable groundwater sampling data; lack of remediation or containment in place for the LNAPL plume or the dissolved plume of Ethylene Dibromide; numerous changes in administrative personnel at NMED, the Air Force and its contractors; disagreements between government contractors, scientists at NMED and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (WUA); disagreements between WUA Board members, and; political interference from the Office of Governor for New Mexico and the Air Force.


But, we are told it’s all going to be different now.

This August thousands of pages of two expensive facility investigation reports were withdrawn by Kirtland. A RCRA Facility Investigation is necessary to characterize a site before a remediation plan can be decided on for clean-up. The RFI reports claimed that there were no more “data gaps” that exist for the fuel spill. The AF claims were so outrageously wrong that the plans had to be withdrawn.

What are some of the data gaps and why are they important? Data gaps keep us from knowing when the plume of EDB might arrive at the municipal wells.Registered Geologist Robert Gilkeson stated that “The expensive computer models cannot calculate the time for the EDB plume to reach the nearest KAFB supply well (KAFB 3) and the nearest Albuquerque drinking water well (Ridgecrest 5) because there are important data gaps between the plume and the two wells.” The location of the leading edge of the EDB plume is not known;

  1. There is insufficient knowledge of the geologic layers between the EDB plume and wells KAFB 3 and Ridgecrest 5. However, the existing knowledge shows there are fast pathways in northward trending ancient sand and gravel channels of the Rio Grande;

  2. There is insufficient knowledge of the important property known as hydraulic conductivity (K). A very serious issue is that all of the computer models have used K values that are biased much too low. The low K values provide an obviously incorrect long time for the plume to reach wells KAFB 3 and Ridgecrest 5.

  3. The computer models have not erred on the side of, “It’s faster than you think.” Instead, the computer models have used values for hydraulic conductivity that are biased much too low. The result is the prediction of incorrect and much too long times for the EDB plume to reach the drinking water wells. 

A recent EPA report predicted an arrival time of 30 years but then cited numerous data gaps that would prevent reliance on that timeframe. EPA raised the problem about the lack of knowledge about “groundwater head.” Head is basically thecombined measure of the elevation and the water pressure at a point in an aquifer which represents the total energy of the water.” EPA stated:

[T]here are areas of the model domain where no monitoring wells exist so it was not possible to calibrate heads in those areas. The significance is that simulated flow directions are potentially less reliable at distances away from existing groundwater monitoring wells."

NMED and Kirtland crow loudly about the number of monitoring wells installed. However, the fact is that there are too few groundwater monitoring wells across the entire site up to and including the municipal supply wells. Although 5 new monitoring wells are planned, the edge of the plume is not identified. Many of the existing monitoring wells have had poor reliability due to the presence of air bubbles in the samples. At least 18 shallow monitoring wells are submerged beneath a rising water table and cannot monitor at the water table. They are not being replaced. The rising water table has also resulted in the bulk of the jet fuel spill being trapped beneath the water table to be a source of contamination for an indefinite period of time.

Intera's review of CH2MHill's 3-d model for a 40 year arrival time stated:

"Results from the analysis should not be used to estimate the time when the supply wells will capture the EDB plume."

Kirtland officers and the NMED Secretary boast repeatedly that the Air Force will stop the EDB plume before arrival at the Ridgecrest wells. However, no jet fuel or EDB has been removed from the groundwater since Kirtland became aware of leaking at the fuels facility in 1992. The CH2M Hill contingency plan proposes that the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority consider allowing the EDB to enter Albuquerque’s drinking water and then be blended down to the allowable drinking water limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Water Utility Authority objects to blending.

The EPA drinking water limit used by New Mexico of 50 parts per trillion is 2 ½ times higher than that adopted by Massachusetts and Florida. The public health goal is zero because EDB is toxic at any level. If shutdown of the Ridgecrest wells is the remedy for protection, the 45+ wells to the north of Ridgecrest will still create a cone of depression for further travel of EDB to those wells several of which are necessary for blending down high arsenic levels.

The claims by Kirtland that the municipal water is not contaminated cannot be verified. The well screen lengths for the Ridgecrest supply wells are 800 ft long and pumping is at a rate of nearly 3000 gallons per minute. So there is tremendous dilution of a one liter sample when one is looking for contamination in parts per trillion. The municipal wells do not have an annular ring in their boreholes to protect contaminated groundwater flowing in from any level. Monitoring wells have a screen not more than 15 ft long and take very discreet samples. Kirtland has not provided monitoring wells at the location of the supply wells called for by the Water Utility Authority in Resolution 2012-14.

Citizen Action asked for an emergency response to be made to the jet fuel spill by either the EPA or the Environment Department under either the Superfund law or the Hazardous Waste Act. EPA and NMED have refused either approach. The NM Legislature asked for a review by an independent task force to address emergency measures. There is no follow through on that request. Citizen Action has asked repeatedly for public representation on the secret technical meetings that are held and go unreported.

A significant issue for homeowners was raised at the July 22nd CAB meeting. FHA and VA mortgage appraisers are required to look for “adverse conditions” before lending to a buyer (pg. D-8):

The hazards include toxic chemicals, radioactive materials, other pollution, hazardous activities, potential damage from soil or other differential ground movements, ground water, inadequate surface drainage, flood, erosion, excessive noise, defective lead base paint (24 CFR Part 35) and other hazards on or off site.”

The jet fuel spill, estimated (NMED 2012) at up to 24,000,000 gallons, is contaminating billions of gallons of drinking water supplies beneath Albuquerque’s homes and businesses. Honest or dishonest disclosure of problems might result in loan denial by VA or the FHA mortgage lenders. A seller or realtor who deliberately does not truthfully disclose facts that could be sued by the unsuspecting buyer for fraud.

It’s time for realtors to support community demands for clean-up of the Kirtland jet fuel spill and Sandia Lab’s toxic dumps. Realtors have an ethical duty to report dangers to potential property buyers. Under the Realtors Code of Ethics, their Duties to Clients and Customers include: “Article 1 -- protect and promote their clients’ interests while treating all parties honestly. Article 2 -- refrain from exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts related to property or transactions.” 

Prospective buyers for Mesa del Sol and in other Albuquerque neighborhoods may be unaware of the Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) fuel spill and the radioactive and hazardous waste dumps existing at Sandia Labs such as the Mixed Waste Landfill (MWL). Sandia concealed evidence of high level waste disposal in the MWL that took place from nuclear fuel meltdown experiments that Sandia Labs performed in the 1970s and the 1980s. Sandia Labs claimed for years that the dump contained only low level mixed waste. Comparatively, the MWl is infinitely more toxic than the jet fuel spill and lacks any reliable monitoring network. The NMED is failing its duty to protect human health and the environment by leaving high level radioactive and hazardous waste in place at the dump.

The public must organize and continue to demand real cleanup and containment of the Kirtland EDB plume and for the Sandia sites. So far there is a history of pacifying statements made to the public from biased modeling, misinformation and, irrelevant pilot projects that are spun to the media to appear as action.