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Aug-04-2008 02:00printcomments

Contaminated Marine Base in Irvine Slated for Public Park and Community Development (VIDEO REPORT)

This is part four in a continuing video news report series on TCE chemical waste stemming from the now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
Photo and video by Tim King

(IRVINE, Calif.) - A veil of secrecy seems to cloud and obscure the real facts behind the closure of the El Toro Marine air base. Documents from the Navy confirm that El Toro is a hazardous waste zone. It is not new information, an environmental cleanup project has been underway for some time, but the extent of the problem and the distance the toxic contamination has traveled from the base is a serious issue, particularly for the Irvine community of Woodbridge.

For years, aviation crews at the base used a chemical degreaser on jet fighters called TCE that was disposed of hap hazardously, often poured straight onto the ground after use. In spite of this public information, city officials in Irvine, California, say the air station that was closed in 1999, will be a great location for a new park and housing development.

But Orange County residents like Bill Turner who have been investigating the issue in recent years, say extensive environmental cleanup needs to happen here before any development takes place. That's because El Toro Marines have been fallen sick with a variety of symptoms that match those of TCE, or Trichloroethylene, contamination. particularly in the part of the base becoming known as "Ground Zero" at El Toro: the Marine Wing Support Group 37.

The problems may begin at El Toro, but they don't end there. An underground plume of TCE has moved into an Irvine, California neighborhood and residents of this Woodbridge community have contacted saying they had no idea the problem was this severe. Other contend that there has been a great deal of local coverage on the issue.

Bill Turner commented on how the problem originated, "What happens is TCE is a very stable molecule and TCE was a part of cleaning fluids used on jet engines at El Toro marine base. This over the years was dumped on the surface of the land and it migrated down into the water table and the water table is moving the TCE off the base into this Woodbridge community here."

Irvine Public Affairs Spokesman Louie Gonzales was not prepared to offer comments about the TCE, but he did describe the proposed park that recently got the go ahead and $200 million to get the project underway.

"The Great Park is a concept that contains 1,347 acres, it has many elements that will we believe will be of great value to the community and to the region. It will have many elements such as a sports park, museums, play and ball fiedls of various types. The whole idea is to provide the community with a great metropolitan park of the 21st Century."

While researching this story, my travels led me toward my old hangar building that I worked out of as a Marine in the early 1980's, I spent more than two years stationed here in the most contaminated part of the base; Marine Wing Support Group 37: Ground Zero at El Toro.

After being parked for less than ten minutes I noticed that the asphalt from the parking lot had literally lifted away with my tire. The hazardous waste at this base is at surface level. This is where a park with ball fields will be constructed. It could seem like a risky move for this city to make, and TCE is not the only chemical stemming from El Toro.

Bill Turner says the proof is all in public documents, and copies are located at the El Toro repository and the Irvine Public Library. Unfortunately, he and other who have studied the problems see no easy answers.

"There are a number of different chemicals, toxic chemicals that were left by the Marines when they vacated El Toro. There is a major cleanup activity going on at El Toro. The question is, 'are they going to get it all? How much are they going to get?' We don't think they will ever get all the TCE; that is quite impossible. It has thoroughly penetrated the water table around here and I can't ever envision them being able to clean it all up."

Camp Lejeune is another Marine Corps base with serious problems from chemical contamination. Still an active base, Lejeune is contaminated with both TCE and a similar chemical known as PCE, perchloroethylene.

Here is the video report by Tim King, courtesy of YouTube. Also please remember that there are important story links below the video frame:

Here are the other installments in this series on El Toro:

These are all related reports on TCE:

Tim King in 2008, covering the Iraq War

Tim King: Editor and Writer

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'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 since the new format designed by Matt Lintz 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, 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: Visit Tim's Facebook page (

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Bob O'Dowd August 6, 2008 1:04 pm (Pacific time)

EPA reported that El Toro had 25 contaminated sites. Site 24, the MWSG-37 area, was the origin of the TCE spreading miles off base. EPA estimated 8,000 lbs of TCE in the soil and groundwater under Site 24. Bldg. 296 and 297, the huge maintenance hangars were the source. I worked in Bldg. 296 (MOS 3071/3072) in WSSD--north end of the hangar on the 2nd deck. Based on my contacts with ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry), it looks like anyone working in the hangars was exposed to toxic vapors and may be seriously ill. El Toro told EPA that they stopped using TCE in the mid-1970s. One Gunny told me “bull_ _ _ _.” He was there in the 90s and TCE was still used on base. EPA never asked El Toro what degreasing/cleaning solvent was used instead of TCE. The drinking water is another matter. El Toro purchased municipal water from the Irvine Ranch Water District in late ’69 or early ’70. Why purchase water when the principal aquifer under the base had plenty of water? Did the high salt content in the shallow aquifer cause corrosion of well casings (in the ground almost 30 years by ‘69) and unknowingly allow TCE into the well water? When were the base wells abandoned? Why did NAVFAC not pursue the location of well screens during the well destruction process (1998 to 2007)? After AW #4’s screen was found in the shallow, contaminated aquifer in March 1998, NAVFAC stopped asking its consulting engineers to locate other well screens. What happened to the construction drawings and well logs for all of the base wells? Lots of questions; no answers from EPA or the Navy (NAVFAC San Diego).

Carol August 4, 2008 1:46 pm (Pacific time)

I'm horrified that such a toxic site would ever be considered as a public park. I can only think that the risks of TCE contamination have not been thoroughly explained to the people making the decisions. I'd like to recommend that Mr. Gonzales and his peers read the victim's registry at before they pass judgement on the value of such expenditure of public money. There is danger from vapor intrusion when TCE is the contaminant. Any dugout may cause more exposure through inhalation of trapped vapors. Tim says that the contamination, at El Toro, is at ground level. One method of TCE contamination is through skin contact. I, for one, would never want anyone I care about to spend time at such a place. I've seen what contaminatin can do. Trust me, the cost of such contamination is too great. If one survives contamination, quality of life can be horrible. Can any community afford the risk posed, by TCE, to its citizens? My answer is NO!

Bob O'Dowd August 4, 2008 6:59 am (Pacific time)

Tim, good reporting and video. Dr. Leveque’s comments really got my attention. It looks like he’s saying there’s no safe way to use TCE. Once exposed it gets into fatty tissue. Does this mean it’s stored in the body and released over time? Hope you continue the series with Dr. Leveque. My family doctor didn’t know anything about the health effects of exposure to TCE. After I was operated on for stage 2/3 bladder cancer, my urologist want back to his textbooks and agreed that exposure to TCE at MCAS El Toro put me at risk for bladder cancer and was the probable cause of it. How many El Toro Marines without medical insurance or access to the VA’s medical system, didn’t get medical treatment in time and died? With over 1,400 military sites contaminated with TCE, there’s sound medical and moral reasons to include TCE exposure under the VA’s presumptive disability umbrella, giving veterans needed medical treatment and disability compensation.

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