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Jul-25-2008 09:30printcomments

El Toro Water Contamination Reports Will Continue

Technical delays have slowed down progress but a number of reports will soon be posted.


El Toro's abandoned hangars are shown in this aerial shot from the Smithsonian Institute

(IRVINE, Calif.) - I have spent the last several days in the area of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in what is now Irvine, California, investigating the status of the water contamination that stems from the former air base.

For those who not familiar. El Toro, in the heart of Orange County, California, is an EPA "Super Fund" site and contamination in the groundwater here is connected to TCE- trichloroethylene, perchlorate and other chemicals. The base is being developed into a public park under the "Great Parks Corporation" in Orange County and also is the site of new home construction.

Irvine, California's mantra is that it is the safest city in America, but mounting evidence from a number of sources including the Navy and the EPA, tell a story of decades of environmental abuse.

An underground "plume" of TCE has traveled several miles from the base and now occupies an area in one of California's most affluent neighborhoods, according to documents released by the U.S. Navy. The depth of the TCE plume at El Toro which is considered "Ground Zero" is at the immediate surface. In Irvine it is approximately 150 feet below ground level.

This series began after I was contacted by former and current Marines who have dealt with serious health issues which are believed to be tied to the El Toro Marine base.

A small amount of inquiry led me to a steadfast group of Marines and Marine family members on the east coast who explained that the problems at the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune in North Carolina are even worse. The Camp Lejeune matters have gaining more attention in recent months.

El Toro today is a ghost town. The hangars stand in stark testimony to the mass of humanity that once occupied this place. Jets constantly roared into the air here and Marines used this base from World War Two until 1999 when El Toro was closed and billions were spent relocating the Marines to Miramar, California in San Diego County under BRAC- the government's Base Realignment and Closure Process.

El Toro was the base depicted in the movie "Independence Day" which cast Will Smith as the Marine Corps FA/18 jet fighter pilot who helped save the earth from alien invaders. While that is just Hollywood fantasy, it does speak to the importance of this former base as it was the Marine Corps flagship and the former home of the 3rd Marine Air Wing. Many people believe the base should never have been closed and that national security was weakened in doing so.

I had planned to have at least one more video report published at this point, but technical issues have slowed that progress to a snail's pace. I hope to have part two in the video series up today. There is a great deal of information to be revealed in this first series, thanks for your patience. Salem-News.com is a small, powerful news organization that invests largely in covering issues related to the military and our veterans.

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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: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Cpl Reid SL April 6, 2013 10:20 pm (Pacific time)

I was stationed atCamp Lejuene 1974 and were stationed at MCAS El Toro 1976 and agent orange 1975 in south east asia I am having problem this Marine have been forgotten.


Cpl Jeffords TM January 29, 2013 12:04 pm (Pacific time)

What kinda luck do I have.... I was stationed at El Toro, Camp Lejuene and Pendleton all three bases have reported contaminated drink water. SO what does that hold in store for me in the future.... I was stationed at all three in the ealy 1980's.

Editor: And here they say three is a charm... please stay in contact with us, we are riding this hard and not letting anything significant pass without writing about it.  Remember there are plenty of Marines who are not sick too.


cpl sanders charles e March 15, 2012 2:34 pm (Pacific time)

please keep me inform about the water contamination at base, I WERE STATION THERE IN 1978, AND ALSO STATION AT CAMP LEJEUNE NORTH CAROLINA WERE THERE IS STUDY ON CONTAMINATION WATER WAS FIND THERE.

Editor: Will do Corporal, and for the latest visit Salem-News.com and enter the key word el toro and  you will be taken to a page with the latest, Semper Fi!


Ed Fremer February 2, 2009 8:02 am (Pacific time)

My son Michael Fremer was killed at Fort Polk, La on 2/13/08 because of Army Negligence during a training exercise. The Army can not be held accountable because of the Feres Doctrine. This law needs to be changed. Why is the Army exempt from being held accountable for Negligence? Our young men and woman are risking their lives. This is how our country treats the soldiers and the families? The Feres Doctrine needs to be overturned!


Bob O'Dowd July 26, 2008 7:23 am (Pacific time)

TCE is a widespread pollution problem in the United States. Both industry and the military made extensive use of TCE without regard to safe (if there is any) environmental disposal practices. It is an excellent degreaser and has been especially useful in aircraft maintenance operations. In 2003, the Air Force reported there were over 1,400 military sites contaminated with TCE. The cost to clean-up these sites is in the billions. The huge maintenance hangars (EPA Site 24) in MWSG-37 at El Toro (Bldg. 297, my hangar was over 200,000 sq. feet in area) used this chemical since the 1940s to clean aircraft parts for large reciprocal engine aircraft. In my time (the 1960s) I can recall four engine Lockheed C-130s undergoing maintenance in the hangar. We even had a Navy P-3 Orion (4 engines) in the hangar for several weeks. The P-3 was powered by four Allison T56 turboprops and made an emergency landing at El Toro. See “The TCE Blog” for many news stories on the use and misuse of TCE in both industry and the military


shawna July 25, 2008 11:15 am (Pacific time)

how did it happen

Tim King: Shawna, I will get links up as soon as I can to our other stories that give background on this. 

The TCE was used to clean the jet fighter parts that became greasy.  I understand that this stuff quickly strips all oily and greasy substances from metal.  Well, the stuff got dumped straight into the ground after use, I think it is fair to say that nobody considered the eventual impact.  In other words, I do not think the origin is malicious.  But the result is horrifying and I know several people who have lost family members fro mTCE-related cancer, though the confirmed cases are more coming out of Lejeune at this point.  The difficult part is that many Marines served at both bases, so it is hard to know exactly. 

TCE permeates back through the ground and after the wells were shut down and the base went to municipal water, the problems minimized.  But the damage was done at that point and the water tables were contaminated.  There is a huge cleanup effort underway at El Toro and I recorded some really seriously telling video ov this yesterday.  I will be delivering these images and reports over the next several days.  The biggest problem might come from showering, as the stuff is vaporized at that point and people breathe it in.  It is a huge situation and story and I am sad to be one of the only reporters working on it. but then most Marines don't become reporters I suppose..

Yesterday at the MWSG-37 area at El Toro, I parked my car on asphalt for about five minutes. When I drove away I thought I had a nail in my tire, but it was not a nail... it was a huge chunk of asphalt/blacktop that became stuck to my tire and stayed there.  It took about twenty minutes for the tire to shake it off and that is when the steering wheel quit shaking.  I was shocked and I think that could be related to the TCE bubbling back up through the ground.  In southern California for the most part, asphalt does not stick to your tires like that.  The temps were in the 90's or so, not that hot.

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