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Watch for our Series on El Toro Marine Base ContaminationTim King Salem-News.com
All Marines and their family members who were stationed at El Toro and Camp Lejeune, where the contamination-related problems are a matter of record and have inspired several ongoing investigations, need to be aware of the possible related health risks.
(SALEM, Ore.) - El Toro MCAS was the Marine Corps' top aviation base on the west coast until its 1999 closure that sent the 3rd Marine Air Wing down to Miramar, "Fighter Town USA". The relocation booted the Navy and its Top Gun program off to the Nevada desert where it is now located in Fallon. El Toro was probably largely abandoned over contaminated water, though other reasons were given at the time.
The story of El Toro begins in haste; World War Two was on and the Marines needed a place to train and organize the aerial arm of the war effort, so the farm fields and orange orchards around Trabuco Canyon Road in Orange County were plowed down and the runways and associated buildings were constructed.
For many years, the base was home for thousands of families. The Marines flew operations and training missions constantly, as the nation's military advanced from one type and model of fighter aircraft, to another.
I was given orders to report for duty at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station just after graduating from Marine basic training in San Diego, in September 1981. An assignment at El Toro was the kind of duty station that Marines often hoped to land. Located in the heart of Southern California, the air station had many amenities, great weather, beautiful scenery, shopping and nightlife, fantastic clubs, and in close proximity to Laguna Beach.
I had several clues during my time there about how little thought was given to the local environment. My job as a tactical aircraft refueler, meant that our fuel "tanks" for refueling the jet fighters were actually big 20,000 gallon bags, which we thought of as big, huge waterbeds. These bags were surrounded by five foot tall dirt berms that we spent a whole lot of time raking and tidying up.
One day, a fuel bag of JP-4 jet fuel ruptured and filled the berm with the nasty, volatile and dangerous substance. The job of three other Marines and I, was to actually wade knee-deep in the jet fuel so that the pumps could suction it out. We spent a lot of time wading through fuel that day and we were all very sick before it was over.
That is a perfect example of why I had no trouble accepting the possibility that the water on the base was extremely contaminated due to another toxic liquid that was poorly used at places like El Toro. It is known as TCE, short for Trichloroethylene, and it was an aircraft degreaser manufactured by old American companies like DOW Chemical and DuPont.
This degreasing agent was used by Marines to clean the fighters, and then it would just be dumped on the ground and hosed into the water system. Well guess where it collected? The "TCE plume" spilled out in the Marine Wing Support Group-37 area, specifically where thousands of Marines including myself were located on the base.
Over time the contaminated water wells were closed down, though a great deal of secrecy accompanied all of this.
Records are lost in some cases, and were never kept in other cases. But the word got out and El Toro was finally added to the list of EPA "Super Sites" which the agency regards as more dangerous than other contaminated sites. I have contacted the EPA and advised them of the work the investigation we are conducting, and asked for time with a representative of their agency Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008. I have been assured by the agency that they will be in touch and provide the interview.
This investigation is in the early stages, but due to the tireless efforts of Robert O'Dowd, John Uldrich and many others, the matter is moving forward and it is not likely to stop rolling any time soon. All Marines and their family members who were stationed at El Toro and Camp Lejeune, where the contamination-related problems are a matter of record and have inspired several ongoing investigations, need to be aware of the possible related health risks.
Our best path toward reaching that end is government transparency and willingness to cooperate. Based on the list of people we are already working with, a force to be reckoned with is in the making. I hope to find strong cooperation among fellow Americans in this effort, as Salem-News.com continues to "support the troops" in all matters related to veterans and their well-being.
Catch these related stories from Salem-News.com's Tim King and Dr. Phil Leveque:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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