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Concern grows over Kirtland fuel plume
By Jeff Potter and Warren Cox, Central New Mexico Group
In the latest in a series of public meetings held over the last five years, residents of Albuquerque’s Siesta Hills, South San Pedro, Trumbull Village and Homestead neighborhoods packed the Cesar Chavez Community Center on Dec. 4 to continue to voice their collective outrage and concern over the pace of the investigation and remedial actions associated with the decades-old Kirtland Air Force Base fuel plume.
The threat to public water wells is growing as the plume of contaminants moves above and within the aquifer. As at meetings before it, members of the public expressed concern about what is being done to prevent what at this time seems to be progressive drinking water pollution, the soil-borne release of fuel fumes or the decrease in property values in affected neighborhoods.
Officials from the base, the New Mexico Environment Department and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority all gave presentations on the history of the plume, proposed remediation efforts and locating alternate water supplies – if contamination is detected in a city water supply well, it will be shut down and alternate sources brought on line. The remedial actions will need to aggressively address such an occurrence.
A review of the history of this environmental contamination is available in , of the Weekly Alibi, authored by David Correia of La Jicarita Press.
The most compelling news from that story relates to the revised estimates of the size of the underground fuel spill which are now at 24 million gallons. The spill encompasses an area 7,000 feet long by 1,500 feet wide, oriented in a southwest-to-northeast direction from Bullhead Park to Louisiana Boulevard.
This latest estimate is double the volume of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which was a surface spill. The most distressing fact about the KAFB plume is the presence of the highly toxic, but water-soluble and environmentally stable component ethylene dibromide.
It would be a major environmental disaster to Albuquerque’s drinking water supply if the nearby Ridgecrest and Burton wells became contaminated, as they provide 3.1 billion gallons per year, 21 percent of the city total.
A read of Concerned Citizens’ summary, after the group obtained records through the Freedom of Information Act, is sobering. The Air Force repeatedly allowed waiver of pipeline inspections dating back to the 1980s after fuel inventories indicated possible leaks.
The Air Force has demonstrated a historically slow response to the fuel spill issue, which seems to be supported by the official record.
Although the remedial action investigation and response process required under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act is multi-stage, and has extensive review and response cycles, it would appear that more rapid progress can be attained, and should be expected given the serious nature of the contaminant nature and extent.
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