Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control Registry (ATSDR)

Evaluation of Potential Exposures: Bulk Fuels Facility Groundwater Plume

July 12, 2013


Citizen Action New Mexico Comments

September 9, 2013



The Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) gallon jet fuel spill estimated at 24,000,000 gallons is the largest contamination of an underground aquifer in the history of the United States. In a round about way, the ATSDR Evaluation Report informs the public that Kirtland's jet fuel spill will reach Albuquerque’s municipal wells. But then, ATSDR assumes that contamination of the municipal wells will be prevented because remediation for the dissolved plume of Ethylene Dibromide (EDB) will supposedly take place. ATSDR assumes a source of replacement water for municipal, Veterans Administration Hospital and Kirtland supply will be found.

The ATSDR draws the incorrect conclusion of an “incomplete pathway” for exposure where it has no facts to support any effective ongoing or future remediation. ATSDR fails to inform the public that no plan or technology is in place or even identified for remediation of the EDB plume. ATSDR then states that it is not going to evaluate the “efficacy” of remediation, of which there is none to actually evaluate.

ATSDR offers no assurance that EDB contaminated water will not be delivered to Albuquerque water users at levels that are known to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be toxic. EDB is allowed in New Mexico drinking water at levels 5 times higher than allowed in California.

The ATSDR Evaluation Report for the Kirtland AFB jet fuel spill is filled with conclusions that are not based on data or science. The ATSDR recommendations offer nothing that will result in real solutions. The ATSDR report should be withdrawn in its current form.

On July 30, 2013 one of the authors of the ATSDR report informed citizens at a public meeting that the public will be left with an “orphaned aquifer.” That is, an aquifer so contaminated with Ethylene Dibromide that it will be unusable as a potable water supply far into the future. ATSDR should include the orphan aquifer statement in its report. This would mean abandonment of the most productive portion of Albuquerque’s aquifer. The ATSDR report proposes that there is no expected future danger from the contaminated water migrating to Albuquerque water supply wells for residents because 1) remedial action will take place, or 2) the municipal wells can be shut down, or 3) an alternate source of water found.

ATSDR states:

“There are no past, present, or expected future exposures via the groundwater (down-gradient water supply wells) pathway. Bulk Fuels Facility [BFF]-related contaminants have not been detected in the water supply wells. Although it is expected that BFF contaminants would eventually migrate down gradient to water supply wells in the absence of remedial or contingency actions, such actions are already occurring and will be upgraded in the near future (Shaw, 2012c). An ongoing groundwater monitoring program is also operating in order to determine the efficacy of ongoing and planned remedial actions and provide warning should BFF contaminants approach the drinking water wells."

The ATSDR report paves the way for KAFB to try to escape 1) clean up of the EDB plume and 2) reduce financial liability for the largest contamination of an aquifer in US history. There is no planned or ongoing containment or remediation of the Ethylene Dibromide (EDB) plume that has traveled off of KAFB. This is an indication that KAFB intends to wait until the municipal wells become contaminated and then be shut down. Saying the aquifer is contaminated but won’t cause exposure of the public creates opportunity for Kirtland to request of NMED that the jet fuel spill, as a Solid Waste Management Unit, needs No Further Action for clean up except perhaps monitoring and deed restrictions for land use. The Air Force already claims the plume is stable, will be cleaned up by microbial processes by 2025 and that a containment system is not necessary.


1. The ATSDR should recommend that the KAFB jet fuel matter be immediately placed on the National Priorities List to consider an emergency response program for clean up. The Albuquerque Water Utility Authority Resolution 12-14 also requests “emergency measures.” After 15 years of involvement by the New Mexico Environment Department, no meaningful remediation plan or technology is in place for the dissolved plume of EDB headed for Albuquerque’s municipal wells.

2. The ATSDR report should not be issued in its current form due to missing and unreliable data, errors and conclusions that are made without factual basis. The ATSDR report concludes the assumption (p. v) that “future exposures, which are possible, will be prevented if ongoing and prospective remedial actions are implemented as planned.”


The ATSDR assumptions for 1) remediation and 2) availability of alternate water sources are false.
1. Remediation

  • KAFB has failed for decades to conduct adequate remediation, allowing a dissolved plume of Ethylene Dibromide (EDB) to reach within less than ¾ mile of the City of Albuquerque’s municipal supply wells.
  • Kirtland has no remedial action planned, no technology in place, or even identified to clean up the dissolved plume of EDB contamination.
  • The ATSDR does not grasp that the bulk of the diesel fuel is trapped beneath the water table dissolving into the aquifer and cannot be removed with soil vapor extraction (SVE) technology.
  • Soil vapor extraction technology is unworkable for the dissolved plume of EDB. (1)
  • Pump and treat is not in place and has many drawbacks. There is no NPDES permit for treated waste water from the fuel spill to be put in the Albuquerque sewer system.
  • There is no permit to re-inject contaminated wastewater into the aquifer.
  • There is no evidence to indicate that bioremediation is removing EDB dissolved in the groundwater.

2. ATSDR does not or cannot identify the existence of an "alternate" source of water for Albuquerque.

  • Councilor Rey Garduno stated at the 8/21/2013 Water Utility Authority meeting, “there is no alternate supply.”
  • There is no identification of where replacement water would come from for the municipal wells, the VA Hospital well and the KAFB supply wells. Consideration of cost and infrastructure are absent from the report.
  • The ATSDR envisioned remedy, to shutdown the highly productive Ridgecrest municipal wells, ignores the 45+ wells to the north of the Ridgecrest wells that will continue drawing the EDB to those wells. Several of those wells would need a source to blend down high arsenic levels. The Ridgecrest wells are the current source that would become unavailable if shutdown.

3. The EDB plume is headed directly toward municipal supply wells at Ridgecrest, KAFB supply well #3 and the Veterans Administration Hospital supply well.

  • ATSDR does not discuss that a decision to shut down the Veteran’s Administration supply well has been made by VA management, planning a switch to Albuquerque city water to be paid for by the Air Force. The VA consumption is 72,000,000 gallons per year.
  • The ATSDR report does not identify that KAFB supply wells #15 and #16, located to the west and east of the EDB plume have been shutdown and are no longer monitoring for EDB. How much replacement water is required?
  • KAFB #3 is drawing the EDB plume toward itself expanding the plume further toward the east. KAFB #3 annual water replacement annually would require over 450,000,000 gallons of water. (CITATION).
  • Contamination of the drinking water for the City of Albuquerque is imminently threatened by the highly toxic plume of EDB that is less than 4000 ft distant and moving at an undetermined velocity toward the 5 Ridgecrest municipal wells.

4. The allowable exposure to EDB in drinking water in New Mexico is 5 times higher than the State of California.
ATSDR has not identified whether or not the City of Albuquerque will deliver EDB contaminated water to the public that could be below the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) but above the detection limit. The EPA health goal for EDB is zero exposure to EDB. The toxicity of the contamination of Ethylene Dibromide (2) and other contaminants that are encroaching upon Albuquerque’s municipal wells is inadequately discussed.2 Instead ATSDR largely shifts the report’s discussion to the potential for benzene contamination in buildings.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) establishes a public health goal (PHG) of 0.01 μg/L (0.01 ppb) for ethylene dibromide in drinking water. This PHG is based on the carcinogenic effects observed in an oral study performed by the National Cancer Institute in 1978. The authors reported cancer of the forestomach in rats and mice. (See, PUBLIC HEALTH GOALS FOR CHEMICALS IN DRINKING WATER ETHYLENE DIBROMIDE September 2003).

ATSDR’s Recommendations, based on its Conclusions, call for continuing “ongoing and proposed remedial actions.” ATSDR states that (p.2-3) it “will not address the efficacy of the proposed remedial actions on the potential for future exposures to contaminants from the contaminated groundwater.” ATSDR cannot confirm that there is any ongoing remediation effort identified, proposed or planned for the dissolved EDB plume.

The ATSDR Conclusions are contradicted by the fact that there are no remedial efforts (other than shutdown of municipal wells) for the dissolved EDB plume and the diesel fuel trapped beneath the water table. ATSDR does not identify that:

  • There is no plan for remediation of the EDB plume
  • There is no plan to prevent EDB from reaching the municipal wells
  • There is no plan to treat the EDB by removal at the wellheads and no identifiable technology to do so
  • There is no technology in use for cleanup of the dissolved EDB plume
  • There is no technology in place to clean up the jet fuel spill trapped beneath the water table.
  • There is the lack of an emergency response by local, state and federal agencies to a major environmental crisis.
  • ATSDR fails to address the citizen concern (p. 2) that the planned soil vapor extraction remedy will not capture or retard migration of LNAPL or EDB. Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE) is not an effective strategy for removal of EDB that is dissolved in the groundwater.

ATSDR does not discuss the strategy that the Air Force actually intends to rely upon: leaving the EDB contamination to “natural processes.” (March 2011 Air Force Report to Congressional Committees). NMED informed KAFB that EDB does not naturally attenuate or biodegrade (p. 2).

The ATSDR analysis of the plume velocity and arrival time at municipal wells in approximately 11 years is based on 2010 statements by KAFB and Shaw (the AF contractor) that are out of date and unreliable. In March 2012, NMED criticized KAFB for its unreliable statements on the velocity. ATSDR does not take into account that the flow velocity of the plume will continue to accelerate as it draws nearer to the drawdown of the municipal wells. No monitoring wells have been installed near to the Ridgecrest municipal wells for the collection of data to perform reliable and representative modeling. The edge of the EDB plume still has not been determined. Acceleration as the plume approaches municipal wells has not been determined.

On September 7, 2010, the Air Force furnished expected travel time information from the jet fuel spill to the Ridgecrest production wells that stated (see: Screening-level Risk Evaluation for Petroleum Hydrocarbon Fuel Compounds in Subslab Soil Vapor - Bulk Fuels Facility, Kirtland Air Force Base CH2M HILL October 27, 2009):

“Flow paths do exist from the Kirtland BFF plume toward production wells Ridgecrest 5 and KAFB-3. Flow paths toward KAFB-3 may be active only seasonally. However, flow paths toward Ridgecrest 5 are active throughout the year.”

“The best estimate of transport velocity along flow paths from the Kirtland BFF plume toward production wells is 0.45 ft/day. Transport velocity under a worst-case scenario is 0.90 ft/day.”

Executive Summary Table ES-1 provided the best and worst case travel time for Ridgecrest #5 as being Ridgecrest 37.0 years and 18.5 years, respectively, with groundwater traveling at 0.45 ft and 0.90 ft per day.

The ES-1 estimates were made without reliable estimates of hydraulic conductivity. The estimates were not based on data from aquifer tests performed at the Kirtland BFF site. Instead, the hydraulic conductivity was modeled from earlier studies made from 1993 to 2002 using data from production wells at other locations. However, those studies give a much shorter travel time. A study by McAda and Barroll (2002) indicated “Horizontal hydraulic conductivity of the depth intervals used by production well fields was 30 ft/day in the east-west direction, and 60 ft/day in the north-south direction.” See section, Summary of Reports Providing Hydraulic Conductivity Estimates, p. 15.

The 2010 travel time report is contradicted by more recent information. As of March 2012, according to NMED, KAFB still underestimates the flow velocity. ATSDR reliance on the 2010 report to make its statement indicates the ATSDR does not do recent or competent research on the groundwater velocity issue. The KAFB report on groundwater velocity, i.e., travel time for the EDB plume to the municipal wells was dismissed as flawed by NMED (pgs. 5, 6).

  • NMED notes that the travel time from ground surface to the aquifer was not calculated.
  • The volume of LNAPL in the vadose zone was never calculated.
  • The monitoring wells have not been in place long enough and are not sufficient in number to determine the velocity.
  • Moreover, the edge of the plume has not been encountered to know how far, over what speculative time period, the plume may have traveled.

ATSDR should draw no conclusions whether WUA has sufficient time to meet its goals for contingency planning for the EDB contamination of municipal wells. First, the ATSDR lacks a rigorous analysis of the obstacles to contingency planning, i.e., arrival time of the EDB plume, location of alternate sources, water rights, infrastructure, eminent domain condemnation, EDB treatment, and costs. Second, the ATSDR estimate of worst case arrival time of EDB at the municipal wells of ~11 years is speculation. ATSDR states that “these contaminant transport times and durations are based on regional estimates of hydraulic conductivity rather than any site-specific pump test data from the aquifer zones of interest.” Third, the ATSDR conclusion ignores:

  • The estimate of travel velocity is more rapid given the use of regional hydraulic conductivity rates, as discussed above.
  • The effect on travel time given the increasing hydraulic gradient and velocity as the EDB plume nears the radius of influence of the municipal wells.

The perception of the magnitude of the leak, how far and how fast it has traveled has been consistently underestimated and minimized by KAFB. In 2000 KAFB estimated the jet fuel spill at slightly less than 100,000 gallons based on inventory loss records. In a November 2000 addendum to its Abatement Plan (pgs. 1, 2), Kirtland claimed that inventory records were only kept from 1996 forward and showed a loss of 157,353 gallons of JP-8 for a 5-year period but with no records for JP-4 fuel.3 4 The estimate rose to 24,000,000 gallons in 2012.

Planning for and installation of clean up technology has been minimal and inadequate to address the plume of carcinogenic contamination. Beginning in 2004 until 2009, four Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE) units were put in place, operating sporadically, often poorly located and shut down since December 2012. NMED requested that there be 16 operating SVE units. Those were not provided. (p.24). KAFB did not comply. KAFB installed two thermal oxidizer (TO) units in November 2012 but changed to a less efficient design without notifying NMED.

The ATSDR Site History disregards the problems with the Bulk Fuels Facility that were known by Kirtland AFB much earlier than 1999. KAFB failed to comply with regulations for pipeline testing and knew the pipelines would fail testing in 1985:

  • Kirtland failed from the 1950s on to comply with the requirements of AF Manual 85-16 for annual and 5-year pipeline pressure testing.
  • Kirtland knew from a feature on a 1951 aerial photograph that the historical fuel offloading/dispensing location showed soil contamination.
  • In 1985 Kirtland knew that the 5-year hydrostatic test, required by AF Manual 85-16, would fail if it were conducted. The AF issued a waiver for the 5 year pressure test because the pipelines did not meet AF requirements. The waiver still required the annual pressure tests. The pipelines were not repaired and annually tested as ordered in the waiver.
  • The Air Force knew the fuel facility was leaking in 1992 from a location identified as Pump House Bldg 1033 and from contamination at a nearby evaporation pond; other pipelines were leaking elsewhere at Kirtland. The pump house was less than 300 ft from the offloading racks.
  • In 1994 the AF issued waivers for both the 5 year pressure test and the annual pipeline testing because it was known that pipeline valves would fail. Replacement and repair of defective valves and piping was not done. The 1994 waivers described pipeline testing as “impossible.”
  • Kirtland’s claim that it did not know the aquifer was contaminated until 2007 is false. An internal Kirtland April 1, 2002 memorandum states: (p.1 , item 2)

“Contamination exceeding Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) standards was detected in the subsurface soil to a depth of 300 ft below ground surface (fbgs) with an areal extent of 6-7 acres. Contamination has been detected in the groundwater beneath the site at a depth of 480 fbgs…”

ATSDR relies almost exclusively on the information from the polluter KAFB and Shaw Environmental for its data and conclusions. There is no indication in the report that the ATSDR visited the Kirtland AFB site. The history of the spill and the indifference of KAFB to pipeline problems and failure to comply with administrative orders from NMED under RCRA are not discussed by ATSDR. Citizen Action provided that detailed information to the ATSDR previous to the issuance of this report. When data is provided by members of the public, ATSDR should at least take the time to look to see if it is correct and evaluate it.

ATSDR disregards:

1) the many years of Notices of Deficiencies and Disapprovals from NMED.
2) the years of failure to comply with the NMED April 2, 2010 order.
3) the findings of the WUA Resolution 12-14.
4) statements of other scientists for the poor quality of data collected by Kirtland and its contractors. ATSDR states that its conclusions for health are based on the data collected by KAFB, and its contractors:

“The following public health conclusions are based on the preceding evaluation of environmental data collected by KAFB and its representative contractors with oversight by the NMED, and groundwater monitoring data collected by the Water Authority.

ATSDR states, “Based on currently available groundwater monitoring data there are no past or current exposures via groundwater at down-gradient water supply wells.” (P. 25)

Citizen Action Comment Response: The Water Utility Authority resolution requested monitoring wells to be installed as close as possible to the municipal wells. That has not occurred.

Available groundwater data for the municipal wells is not adequate to determine exposures. Municipal well screens are several hundred feet long, unlike monitoring wells which have 10 ft long screens. The municipal wells can pump up to 2850 gal. per minute which is an extremely high dilution factor for detection of ethylene Dibromide (EDB) that is measured in parts per trillion. Additionally, the most sensitive testing methodology is not used for the sampling. Due to the low maximum contaminant level (MCL) of EDB (0.05 μg/L) two additional, specialized EPA methods for EDB analysis have been developed. Method 504.1 (p. 6) is a more sensitive indicator than the method 8011 that is used.

The Figure 2 map used by ATSDR is from 2011 and out of date. The Figure 2 Map (p.7) depicting the extent of the EDB plume minimizes the plume boundary by only showing the boundary line out to detections of 50 parts per trillion rather than down to the limit of detection (10 parts per trillion) or the limit of quantification. In 3rd Quarter 2012 groundwater sampling, Monitoring Well KAFB-10615 detected ethylene dibromide (EDB) at a concentration of 0.075 micrograms per liter (μg/L); that is 1½ times the EPA drinking water limit. The KAFB 10615 monitoring location, which lies southeast of Gibson and Louisiana, signals a possible widening of the EDB plume to the east by nearly 1000 ft. A lithographic depiction of monitoring wells from the 2012 4th Q Report shows the presence of EDB at the outer toe of the plume at a 100 ft depth that is attributed to the downward “pull” of the Ridgecrest municipal wells.

A plan for a containment well was only partially approved by NMED because it could make the plume travel further toward the northeast where municipal wells are located:

“NMED staff said that the light non aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) containment well that was drilled to stop the forward movement of the fuel product floating on the water table have been delayed due to some concerns raised at the NMED that the wells may act to pull the LNAPL plume further downgradient, rather than halt its movement. NMED staff told the board that the three concerns they have for the status of this site is the data gap that exists for the extent of the dissolved phase plume, the existence of ethylene dibromide (EDB) above the drinking water standards at all depths, and the evidence of a “diving” EDB at the farthest reach of the dissolved phase plume.

The fact that quarterly sampling often gives such varied results for the presence or non-presence of different GROs and DROs for a long-standing plume of LNAPL contamination is additional evidence that groundwater sampling is incompetent.

The ATSDR is accepting compromised groundwater monitoring data. ATSDR makes the statement that there are...

“a number of limitations in ongoing KAFB sampling and data analysis procedures. It is important to note that, in spite of these issues, both NMED and the Water Authority accept the monitoring data used in this Health Consultation.”

ATSDR fails to present the personal communications from ABCWUA Rick Shean and NMED William Moats or conduct its own analysis of the “limitations” in the data that ATSDR believes is confirmed in the Health Consultation. (Report, p. 22). The fact that flawed data is accepted by ATSDR without correction of the record violates requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). (See, 40 CFR 270.43 – Termination of Permits – causes can be the “failure to disclose fully all relevant facts, or the permittee’s misrepresentation of any relevant facts at any time.”)

The sampling of soil and groundwater have been conducted inappropriately and resulted in groundwater monitoring data that is not reliable and representative.

  • Numerous groundwater monitoring wells have had air bubbles in the samples that vitiates the reliability and representativeness of the groundwater samples for decision making. NMED has commented numerous times on sampling inadequacies for 30 groundwater monitoring wells due to presence of air bubbles (p. 2, item 4).
  • The sampling of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the 4th Quarter of 2012 violated EPA protocols for sampling. The laboratory sample checklist shows that seals on sample bottles were not intact upon arrival; temperatures were not within the correct range of > 0º C to 6º C; sample temperatures were not taken and recorded upon receipt; traffic report or a packing receipt was not present. VOC sample analysis took place weeks later. Mixed air samples in Tedlar bags could not be performed at all. Use of such flawed sampling data for decision making defeats characterization of the nature and extent of the plume.

Currently, ten (10 ) shallow groundwater monitoring wells have flooded well screens that cannot provide reliable and representative groundwater samples. This includes KAFB 1064, which is the monitoring well nearest to the VA Hospital supply well (p. ES 3).

“These rising water levels have caused a number of wells to have screens that are now flooded with the top of the screen below the current water table. First Quarter CY 2013 measurements show that groundwater elevations now exceed the top of the screens in 10 shallow groundwater monitoring wells. As of January 2013, 10 Shallow Zone wells have flooded screens, 7 wells have their tops of screen within 2 feet of the water table, and 36 wells have their tops of screens more than 2 feet above the water table.” (x-1)

ATSDR cannot state on the one hand that effective remedies will be carried out and then state that ATSDR is not examining the efficacy of the remedies. This is bureaucratic double-talk. The report must remove its conclusion regarding an incomplete exposure pathway based upon the incorrect assumptions that:

  1. Effective remedies are being carried out and
  2. An alternate source of water for Albuquerque can be located and delivered.

The ATSDR conclusion is directly contradictory to it own statement. The ATSDR Caveats -- Only for discussion -- states:

“Although this consultation cannot evaluate the effectiveness of proposed remedial actions, it will serve as a vehicle for documenting those concerns, and hopefully, initiating community discussion of these issues.”

The ATSDR draws the incorrect conclusion of an incomplete pathway for exposure where it has no facts to support any effective ongoing remediation. Contrary to ATSDR assumptions:

  • There is no effective remedy in place for the dissolved plume of Ethylene Dibromide.
  • There is no remediation plan.
  • There is no technology in place to remediate the Ethylene Dibromide plume.
  • The Water Utility Authority may deliver EDB contaminated water below the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level.

The ATSDR report fails to adequately address the reduction in water supplies for the City of Albuquerque and the lack of available water for replacement. No analysis of the amount of water necessary for replacement is addressed or whether the alternate source would be from Albuquerque or surrounding or distant areas.

  • The suggestion that an alternate source of water can be found to replace the five Ridgecrest wells and/or the 45+ supply wells to the northeast is unsupported by any data.
  • The replacement of water for the Veterans Hospital and KAFB supply wells #3, #15, and #16 is not addressed.
  • The legal ramifications, infrastructure technicalities, volume of water and costs for obtaining alternate sources of water are not discussed.

The nature of the Rio Grande aquifer that relies on “mountain front recharge” from precipitation is not addressed. See: GROUND WATER ATLAS of the UNITED STATES.

The ATSDR report states that the water pathway for the consumer and municipal wells is “incomplete” because remediation will take place. The report minimizes health consequences by saying that continuing remediation will prevent the exposures. ATSDR should acknowledge that no effective approved remediation plan exists for the dissolved plume of EDB or the Liquid Non-Aqueous Petroleum Liquid (NAPL) plume to stop the movement toward the municipal wells. By omission of the fact that there is no effective remediation plan, ATSDR is providing incorrect information to the public and reaching an incorrect conclusion for health consequences.

ATSDR incorrectly states that (p. 5):

“Thus, most of the leaked fuel is present as a ‘light non-aqueous phase liquid’ (or LNAPL) which is not dissolved in groundwater and the LNAPL migrates down-gradient at a different rate relative to the underlying groundwater.”

ATSDR disregards Shaw’s quarterly technical reports since at least 2011 that the bulk of the LNAPL has been trapped beneath the water table and is dissolving into the aquifer. The June 2012 Quarterly Report states (p. 29):

“NAPL chemical analytical results show that the trapped NAPL will be an ongoing source of dissolved groundwater contamination indefinitely.”

ATSDR incorrectly touts the new system replacing the original Soil Vapor Evaporation (SVE) system. ATSDR fails to recognize the inefficiencies of the SVE system and that it cannot remediate the EDB dissolved plume, as described by NMED.

ATSDR does not recognize that KAFB reported to NMED that Supply wells 15 and 16 are not functional. ATSDR states that,

“The Water Supply Wells include: KAFB Wells 3, 15, and 16.”

EDB is not being monitored in 15 and 16 because they are shut down. There are no plans for repair or restart of 15 and 16. KAFB 16 is high in arsenic levels and that may be an additional reason along with a $30,000 repair cost factor for not repairing the supply well.


ATSDR fails to describe the groundwater contamination pathway for the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital. The report only cites the potential for vapor intrusion into VA hospital buildings. The vapor intrusion conclusion is based on inadequate data according to ATSDR. KAFB has not provided the laboratory data for the VA monitoring wells nearest to the VA supply well. The VA monitoring well data was requested under the Freedom of Information Act. VA management has decided to shutdown the VA supply well, switching to city water supplies and the Air Force paying for the water.

ATSDR failed to fully identify contamination at the VA Hospital supply well by only identifying manganese and phthlate. 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.

ATSDR does not address the concentrations of chemicals found in the groundwater monitoring well KAFB 1064 that is nearest to the VA Hospital 200 ft away in the parking lot. ATSDR did not consider the KAFB 1064 monitoring well, 200 ft distant from the supply well. In 2006 monitoring well KAFB-1064 was constructed in the VA parking lot, 200 ft away, to serve as a “sentinel” monitoring well upgradient of the VA Hospital’s production well. TPH-DRO, TPH-GRO, toluene, naphthalene, phenanthrene, nitrate, dissolved iron, and dissolved manganese were detected from the very first groundwater sample. Instead ATSDR relies only on the samples found in the VA supply well. Those samples suffer from the same problems of a long well screen and dilution factor cited above for the sampling of municipal wells. Even with the high dilution factor however, GROs and benzene are showing up in the drinking water for medically compromised veterans and medical staff.

ATSDR should consider whether the high levels of phthalate are nonetheless being presently served up to service personnel and their families. ATSDR waves away the high concentration results for bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate in water supply wells that are above the MCL at KAFB supply wells #3, and #16 by claiming that perhaps the results are from leaching from pipes or laboratory equipment. With out knowing the reason for the concentrations, ATSDR concludes that “it is very unlikely” that long term concentrations in the drinking water will be above the MCL. KAFB #3 supply is in the direct pathway of the EDB plume. KAFB #16 is high in arsenic.

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). Is KAFB #17 still operational?

The lack of any data for bio-degradation for EDB in Albuquerque’s aquifer was not mentioned by ATSDR. The false representations of KAFB regarding bioremediation of the EDB were not addressed. The possible volume of EDB released over decades from millions of gallons of aviation gasoline and the amount of water that can already be contaminated in the aquifer was not discussed. That amount can be in the range of billions of gallons of contaminated water. ATSDR recognized over a decade ago that EDB degrades “scarcely at all.” NMED later informed Kirtland that EDB does not naturally biodegrade. A half teaspoon of EDB can contaminate approximately 9,000,000 gallons of water. A half teaspoon of EDB was in every gallon of aviation gas as an anti-knock agent.

The ATSDR report changes the emphasis of discussion from the main problem of EDB in the aquifer to the hypothetical problem of vapor intrusion of Benzene into buildings without having real data. Shutting down a building that may be too high in benzene vapor is a much different problem than shutting down the most productive portion of Albuquerque’s municipal wells. The map of the former Bulk Fuels Facility (BFF) site Fig. 1 incorrectly describes the location of the former BFF.

For vapor intrusion, ATSDR states:

“BFF workers may be exposed to benzene in air via vapor intrusion into buildings. As measured, benzene air concentrations are within the normal range of US residences and below regulated occupational concentrations. These exposures are not expected to harm people’s health.”

There is no recognized health damage threshold for benzene.

ATSDR should provide information for where the expected levels of soil vapor gas will come from. Most of the LNAPL is trapped approximately 500 ft below the water table. No description of how much product remains in the vadose zone is presented. Vapor intrusion became a major focus of the report despite the fact that groundwater contamination is the primary problem.

ATSDR discussion of background exposure seems to be along the lines of “We’re already being exposed, a little more can’t hurt.” A little more can cause damage and there can be legal liability. There is no evidence of "safe threshold levels" when it comes to benzene exposure. Under California law (Thelma L. Rutherford, et al. v. Owens-Illinois, Inc. 1997. 16 Cal. 4th 953), one does not need to prove that exposure to a particular defendants' product actually caused his cancer, but needs only to show defendants' product (in this case, benzene) was a substantial factor in increasing the risk of developing cancer.

Benzene is hematotoxic at levels below 1 ppm. The U.S. EPA Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) is zero (0.00) for benzene. Instead, the ATSDR uses occupational guidelines to address exposures that would/should not be present in the workplace but for the negligence of the AF in allowing the leaking to occur for possibly 50 years. The ATSDR does not consider the non-occupational exposures that will be in addition to occupational building exposures. Sensitivities of various persons such as children, asthmatics, the elderly and pregnant women are inadequately considered

Bulk Fuels Facility workers may be women. Exposures to benzene, which is a carcinogen, can be dangerous for pregnant women and the fetus. Epidemiologic studies of adults show clear evidence of causal association between benzene exposure and certain leukemias.

Two studies are available that measured prenatal or early life exposure to benzene. One study measured concentrations of benzene in cord blood in humans as an estimate of placental transfer of benzene; benzene was detected in fetal cord blood at levels equal to or greater than those levels found in maternal blood. Benzene was also detected in breast milk. (Ibid). Prenatal exposures may be linked to miscarriages, lighter birth weight. Childhood leukemia may be associated with paternal benzene exposure. Acute nonlymphocytic leukemia was significantly associated with maternal occupational exposure to benzene during pregnancy.

ATSDR states:

“Workers and patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital may be exposed to benzene in air via vapor intrusion into buildings. Estimated benzene air concentrations are within the normal range of US residences and below regulated occupational concentrations. Based on available data, these exposures are not expected to harm people’s health. However, due to the limited amount of soil gas data available for this location, additional characterization should be conducted.”

Again, ATSDR draws conclusions without adequate data. If data were to show benzene increase above background levels, ATSDR does not consider the potential for increased sensitivity of medically compromised veterans being treated in the VA hospital. The conclusion that no harm is “expected” cannot be made based on the available data that is admittedly “limited” for the vapor intrusion that is possible. Just how limited the data is, is stated by the ATSDR as “no direct measurements of air near the VA hospital;” measurements of soil vapors not being collected from soil vapor monitoring wells, and; unknown levels from past fuel tank leaking at the VA:

“Although there are no direct measurements of air or near surface soil gas samples from the VA Hospital buildings, the proximity of the buildings to the Soil Vapor monitor well with elevated soil gas contaminants (KAFB 106138) suggests that vapor intrusion is possible at this location. Measurements of soil gas vapors in the shallow and deeper soil horizons between well KAFB 106138 and the BFF source area SV monitoring wells to the east have not been collected. Therefore, it is not known whether elevated soil gas vapors at the VA Hospital originate from the BFF source or from a past VA Hospital fuel tank leak. The vapor intrusion pathway at the VA Hospital is considered a pathway of potential exposure. (Emphasis supplied.)

The ATSDR does not provide the size of the past VA fuel tank leak, the date of the occurrence, the distance to the VA hospital or the fate and transport.

ATSDR states:

“It should be noted that ATSDR does not typically evaluate exposures to on-site workers. Occupational (worker) exposures are usually regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or assessed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).”

Why did ATSDR not call on OSHA or NIOSH to perform the exposures to workers? Why did ATSDR not consider the exposures that workers may have already been subjected to in the past at the various building locations.

The ATSDR provides contradictory statements regarding benzene exposure in the buildings. ATSDR states:

“The highest benzene concentration in indoor air was 23 μg/m3 (7/17/12, Bldg. 1026). While this concentration is about 16 times greater than the adjusted, non-residential cancer risk evaluation guide (CREG; 1.4 μg/m3; Table 3), it is only 2.6 times greater than an outdoor (ambient) air sample (8.8 μg/m3) collected at the same time.”

ATSDR then dismisses the heightened concentration being inhaled by building occupants by stating that...

“an indoor air concentration of 23 μg/m3 from a building located at a major fuel distribution facility is not significantly elevated and is probably not indicative of increased concentrations via vapor intrusion.”

The Vapor Intrusion information is largely bogus and unsubstantiated. ATSDR has not investigated the volumes of vapor that are available from deep in the groundwater for Vapor Intrusion to be a significant factor. The data used by ATSDR is from boreholes rather than samples actually taken from inside the buildings.


The ATSDR report should not have been released in its draft form and should not be finalized in its present form. The contradictions, errors, lack of reliable data, poor analyses of remediation and alternatives for Albuquerque for water supply, misinformation about velocity and many other factors described above do not provide a reasonable basis for public discussion of the issues. One wonders why substantial taxpayer funds were spent on such a disingenuous report.


Respectfully submitted,

David B. McCoy, Esq.
Executive Director
Citizen Action New Mexico
POB 4276
Albuquerque, NM 87196-4276
505 262-1862
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


1) Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE) Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) US EPA:

“Diesel fuel, heating oils, and kerosene, which are less volatile than gasoline, are not readily removed by SVE, nor are lubricating oils, which are non-volatile. SVE is generally not appropriate for sites with a groundwater table located less than 3 feet below the land surface. Special considerations must be taken for sites with a groundwater table located less than 10 feet below the land surface because groundwater upwelling can occur within SVE wells under vacuum pressures, potentially occluding well screens and reducing or eliminating vacuum-induced soil vapor flow. … SVE is generally not effective in treating soils below the top of the capillary fringe unless water table depression pumps are used to draw down the water table. In the vicinity of the extraction wells the water table responds to the vacuum by rising, or ‘upwelling’, which can cause the well screen to become submerged thereby reducing airflow."

2) Unlike the other gasoline contaminants that tend to float on top of the aquifer, once EDB reaches ground water it mixes, is highly mobile and can travel separately from the original spill to where it may not be detected. The hazard associated with EDB can persist indefinitely. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry characterizes EDB breakdown in ground water as “hardly at all.” See: The Potential for Ground Water Contamination by the Gasoline Lead Scavengers Ethylene Dibromide and 1,2-Dichloroethane, p.81-82.


3) 7) “While fuel tanks now have gauges and modern technology that allow officials to more closely monitor how much fuel goes in and out, Kirtland civil engineer Brent Wilson says the leak dates back to the days when ‘the way to measure was to take a long stick and dip into the tank.”

Mr. Wilson fails to explain how personnel would dip a stick into a tank containing more than a million gallons of fuel.

4) 3/9/2007 NMED letter to Carl J. Lanz, P.G., (p. 2, Item 3).

“A plan to assess soil contamination near the historical fuel offloading/dispensing feature identified in the 1951 aerial photograph nearest the KAFB-1065 well …”


“During a previous base environmental compliance and monitoring program inspection, a spill was observed near the UST standpipe. In December 1992, Kirtland AFB Compliance and Assessment personnel collected a soil sample near the suspected spill area. The sample was analyzed according to EPA Methods 8020 and 418.1 and contained petroleum hydrocarbons, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylenes. The site was revisited on March 3, 1993 by Kirtland AFB personnel. Shallow soil samples (6 to 7 inches below grade) were collected at four locations in the spill area. Hydrocarbon odors were noted at all sample locations and Kirtland AFB personnel reported a small area of surface soil contamination around the base of the UST Stand pipe and extending a few feet west. Based on this information and previous analytical results, the Condensate Holding Tank was added as a SWMU to the RCRA Part B Permit.”

6) On April 2, 2010 NMED submitted 2 documents to Kirtland. The Ground Water Quality Bureau (GWQB), which administered NMED oversight the previous 10+ years, handed oversight to NMED's Hazardous Waste Bureau (HWB). GWQB's reasons were for lack of Kirtland compliance with their guidelines. GWQB's April 2 letter said:

"KAFB has not complied with the requirements of the GWQB's first and second NOD's. KAFB has failed to provide an interim work plan with specific dates for task completion, or a revised timeline that provides for the investigation and abatement of off-base plumes in a reasonable time frame. Additionally, KAFB's December 30, 2009 letter indicated that it will not be moving expeditiously to begin active remediation of off-base contamination. Given the scope and severity of the contamination plume, KAFB's proposed approach is not acceptable."

"(…) As demonstrated by the GWQB's letters of June 23, 2009, October 18, 2009 and this letter, KAFB has not and is not meeting the GWQB's requirements. Therefore, the GWQB has transferred oversight of corrective actions at SS-111 and ST-106 to the HWB, which will enforce corrective action under the HWA and the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Management Regulations, 10.4.1 NMAC. From this point forward, KAFB shall respond directly to the HWB and copy the GWQB on all correspondence and required plans and reports related to SS-111 and ST-106."

7) On April 2, 2010 NMED's Hazardous Waste Bureau (HWB) submitted notice to Kirtland henceforth, HWB was directing oversight of the fuel spill:

"(…) Date submitted by Permittee (KAFB) show that the contamination caused by the Buylk Fuels Facility Spill represents a significant threat to human health and the environment, particularly to well water in urban neighborhoods adjacent to Kirtland Air Force Base ("KAFB"). Despite the fact that this release of hazardous constituents was first discovered 10 years ago, the Permittee has not completely characterized the Bulk Fuels Facility spill, nor conducted adequate remediation."

"(…) Additionally, in accordance with 20.4.1 NMAC incorporating 40 CFR 264.101 c, the Permittee must implement corrective actions beyond the facility boundary".

As of Dec. 31, 2013, KAFB has implemented no corrective actions beyond the facility boundary.

On August 6, 2010, HWB submitted another NOD (Notice of Disapproval) to KAFB addressing only the work plan (e.g. no actual work):

"(…) Even though this release was first discovered 10 years ago, the U.S. Air Force (Permittee) has not characterized the nature and extend of Bulk Fuels Facility Spill, nor conducted adequate remediation. The threat posed by this release demands immediate and aggressive action as called for in the New Mexico Environment Department's (NMED's) April 2 2010 letter)."

"The NMED has reviewed the Interim Measures Work Plan (June 2010), Vadose Zone Work Plan (June 2010), and Groundwater Investigation Work Plan (June 2010) regarding the KAFB Bulk Fuels Facility Spill, Solid Waste Management Units (SWMUs) ST-106 and SS-111. (…)"

"NMED finds that all three plans are deficient."

On December 10, 2010 in response to KAFB's submissions to the prior August 20 NOD, HWB submitted another NOD to KAFB:

"The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has reviewed the revised Interim Measures, Vadose Zone and Groundwater Investigation Work Plans, concerning the Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) Bulk Fuelds Facility Spill, Solid Waste Management Units (SWMUs) ST-106 BS SS-111. (…)"

"NMED finds the plans to be deficient, and provides the following comments."