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Jul-28-2008 05:00printcommentsVideo

Deadly Toxic Chemicals From Marine Base Threaten Irvine Neighborhoods (VIDEO REPORT)

A legacy of deadly, hazardous waste from a closed Marine air base is quietly invading parts of Orange County, California. This is Part 3 in a continuing series of video reports on

Photos and video report by Tim King
Photos and video report by Tim King

(IRVINE, Calif.) - Toxic waste from the now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine is seeping underground into one of the richest neighborhoods in southern California, putting people at risk.

The federal TCE cleanup effort
at the El Toro Marine Air Station

Orange County residents who have been studying the issue for the last several years say developers intent on changing the old base into a multi-million dollar park and housing community, have not come clean; they haven’t revealed the base’s dirty secrets to people investing their hard earned money here, and in nearby areas that sit squarely on top of an underground plume of TCE- trichloroethylene.

TCE is a degreasing chemical that the Marines used in the maintenance of jet fighter squadrons at El Toro.

Trichloroethylene is comprised of three types of chlorine and other chemicals. Toxicologist, Dr. Phillip Leveque of Oregon, says TCE manufacturers like Dow Chemicals knew all along how extremely dangerous TCE was to people, yet they failed to issue proper warnings. Leveque had one of the first TCE court cases in America. He represented the family of a man who died after using TCE for 18 months as a floor cleaner.

Orange County resident Mike Jansen points to a 2007 U.S. Navy
diagram of El Toro that maps the deadly TCE plume. The fact that
the toxic chemicals are now under Irvine is alarming researchers.

Marines who were stationed at El Toro during the TCE years say the chemicals were dumped onto the ground and that is where they entered the water tables, and originally contaminated the base water system. There are also Marines who say many 55 gallon drums of TCE were simply buried at the base. If this is true, then the drums could still be leaching into the ground.

Researcher Mike Jansen explained the relationship of the underground TCE plume to the base, and the Irvine, California neighborhoods that now sit on top of it, using an official Navy publication that tells the story of the base and neighborhood contamination.

"This is the area right here where the majority of the TCE was used, right in this area. And Weston, is the Navy contractor that put this together."

As he explains, Jansen points to an overview of the TCE plume that local government officials in Irvine and Orange County all too often seem to ignore.

"This is the smoking gun" Jansen said, motioning to the massive plume documented by the Navy. Concentrations outside the base property appear to even the novice eye, as alarming.

"As of Oct 2007, this here is the border of the base, this is the plume extending off the base, different levels of TCE, five times, ten times, its all right here and of course on base its really worse."

El Toro was the Marine Corp’s flagship air base for several generations. Today, for the most part, El Toro is a ghost town of abandoned hangars and buildings. I have been on the base for the last several days gathering information about the toxic contamination, and you do not have to look very far to see clear signs of the federal government’s acknowledgment of it.

But when you talk to officials in Irvine, and at the Irvine Ranch Water District about the TCE contamination, people are on guard and have very little to offer about the contamination and the serious health risks to residents.

The contaminated wells at El Toro were closed down in 1969 or 1970. That is when the base went to municipal water. The actual water contamination was likely halted as a result, but the damage was done to the groundwater tables.

Beth Beeman with the Irvine Water District, confirmed that the base saw a change in the water delivery system. This is the only statement she was prepared to release.

"We provide municipal water service to the areas here. We are a form of local government. As far as we can recollect, back in 1969 we executed a contract with the Department of the Navy for water services for the El Toro Marine Air Station."

The TCE chemicals in the water system have moved under the Woodbridge neighborhood in Irvine, California.

Orange County resident Bill Turner has researched the TCE plume for several years. "I think it is important that the Irvine Ranch Water District be honest and forthright about what the real issues are over TCE in this area."

Turner says transparency is the only answer, and answers in general are lacking.

"They should open it up to a major public, open meeting, and they should have all of their experts there to answer all of the questions that people have. And I have asked them questions in the past and they referred me to other people. So what we really need is the Irvine Water District and all of the other entities in this area that have authority over these water issues be open to the public."

This is a continuing series; please stay tuned to for our upcoming reports on trichloroethylene contamination at El Toro and in Irvine, California.

TCE causes intestinal disorders, mutations and several types of cancer.

Dr. Phil Leveque says prolonged contact with TCE will also cause liver failure. All Marines who served at El Toro need to be aware of the potential, related health hazards, along with Marine Corps family members, and civilian employees of El Toro.

Marine Aircraft Group 46 hangar stands
as a silent witness to the pollution that was
dumped in the groundwater here for decades

Residents of Irvine should also pay close attention to the TCE contamination and take appropriate steps to ensure that family members are not receiving contact from TCE.

Bill Turner says testing is the most important thing that is not being done at this point, in places like Irvine's Woodbridge neighborhood, located a few miles away from the Marine base.

"It's right in the center of a gigantic plume of trichloroethylene that has migrated from El Toro and there are two and three million dollar homes in this area and I wonder if the people who bought these houses were told before they bought these houses, that they are right over a major plume of trichloroethylene."

Turner says it is dangerous, and there is another thing that people need to know and understand.

"Have their houses been tested for TCE vapor intrusion? I don't think any of these houses have. We can't find any officials that will tell us whether or not the houses have been tested for TCE vapor intrusion, and this could be a real significant health issue for people later on in their lives."


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

These are all related reports on TCE:

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's Executive News Editor. 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:

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Anonymous June 19, 2014 9:28 pm (Pacific time)

This sucks I've lived here 9 years and have been sick the whole time now my daughter is sick, I'm trying to move but am stuck!

Sue June 2, 2014 9:45 pm (Pacific time)

I personally appreciate that this story was written, as I've lived in Woodbridge since 2006 and it's now 2014 and I'm now finding this out through articles like this. So for those who criticized this article, the people who actually live in Woodbridge know nothing about this or don't discuss it. Since my family has been sick since moving here, I don't doubt I now know why. Thank you for writing this. You've done a greater service than you know. :)

October 24, 2008 12:45 pm (Pacific time)

The first comprehensive story I have seen in regard to this issue, I intend to keep up, as I was one of those people who were unaware of the extent of the damage. Thanks, keep up the good work.

Lynn Reynolds July 31, 2008 8:15 am (Pacific time)

Hey, Jagger: Perhaps you should go to and look at the plume maps to see that it isn't deep at all--it's only 250 feet from the surface! Also, if you did your research, you would find that TCE has already entered Irvine's main water supply. Moreover, TCE's vapors also travel through soil very easily--it's a proven fact. The plume maps also show the direction of travel. And, unfortunately, it looks like the high concentrations of TCE on base are being pushed off base into Irvine neighborhoods. Yes, that's right, more TCE is on it's way, so prepare accordingly.

jagger July 30, 2008 12:41 pm (Pacific time)

This is a good story to cover, and repetition only reinforces its significance. And thank you and all the other Marines who served our country. What I think is a disservice to your readers is the slant towards sensationalism versus true fact finding and reader education. The military bashing is the old story here too. You don’t think Mr. Leveque has a financial interest in stirring up fear on this topic? Government isn’t the only conspirator in this article. Don’t scare your readers; help them learn. The comments show that you scared them more than educated them. Instead of your fear-invoking headline, try a simple feeder up front like, “this story is important to Marines stationed at El Toro prior to 1970.” It’s that simple. For the current residents and property owners, you need to educate yourself on exposure pathways to realize that once consumption was halted by piping in drinking water, there isn’t much of a chance for exposure to this source of TCE. It is very, very deep in the aquifer, and the aquifer is too salty to drink anyway thanks to the agriculture industry there. TCE is not only an El Toro problem or a military problem. It is the most prevalent non-petroleum contaminant at Superfund sites. Every mechanic used it from the 50s to the 80s. Your readers can learn from this fact and can possibly look to their corner service stations as sources of similar contamination. Here’s an example close to home: Good luck with your future coverage on this topic. It will take decades to solve this manmade problem.

Shelia July 30, 2008 7:19 pm (Pacific time)

Old news? If you believe the Irvine Ranch Water District, their water report shows TCE just entered the main Irvine water supply--something their previous report said didn't exist. Sounds like NEW news to me! Perhaps you ought to do your research before you embarrass yourself in such a public forum. Or, better yet, call the IRWD and ask them what they plan to do to provide Irvine residents with CLEAN water.

Ed July 29, 2008 11:46 pm (Pacific time)

Bob/Tim, You should check the Superfund sites for New Jersey also. From Google, "El Toro is participating in the Installation Restoration Program (IRP), established in 1978. Under the program, the Department of Defense seeks to identify, investigate, and clean up contamination from hazardous materials. As part of IRP, the Navy identified 21 problem areas at the station, including three landfills containing both hazardous and solid waste; buried drums of explosives and low-level radioactive waste; and areas where PCBS, battery acids, leaded fuels, and other hazardous substances were dumped or spilled. In tests conducted early in 1987, the Orange County Water District found TRICHLOROETHYLENE and TETRACHLOROETHYLENE in shallow irrigation wells on and downgradient of the site. An estimated 1,100 acres of land are irrigated by wells within 3 miles of the site. Status (February 21, 1990): In April 1989, Station El Toro prepared a Perimeter Investigation Interim Report which focused on four contaminated areas." The real question is how can underground water move faster than 6" per year without pumping from the 1st and 2nd level aquifers? I worked at El Toro before 9/11 and TCE is only the tip of the iceberg. The natural gas leaks were also pervasive. There was an agreement with Irvine Co. before I left regarding ground water treatment and reuse. Fortunately, TCE didn't get into the drinking water. Semper Fi, Ed

Bob July 29, 2008 7:24 am (Pacific time)

You wackos are really stretching to find something to try to scare the public about. Old news, non news. This tired old dog is dead. The reporter and the Salem-News are really pathetic.

Bob O'Dowd July 28, 2008 9:28 pm (Pacific time)

Tim, I couldn't agree more with your comments to Tim Matthews. I was in MWSG-37 in '63 and '64, never knew El Toro was an EPA Superfund site until last year, and I'm the only one of my blood relatives who had bladder cancer (liked to PCE in the drinking water by ATSDR). After telling my urologist of El Toro’s TCE/PCE contamination (8,000 lbs of TCE in the soil and groundwater of MWSG-37), he thought it was linked to service at El Toro. I live in New Jersey so I can't make the monthly RAB meetings either! The base may have closed in 1999, but there are many Marines who served at El Toro, don’t live in California, and may still be “trying to connect the dots” to their illnesses. Keep up the good work. Too bad our government didn’t take the initiative to notify veterans of the health effects of exposure to TCE. But, I guess this is not the stuff of recruiting posters. Semper Fi

P D.Ann July 28, 2008 5:08 pm (Pacific time)

Dear Mac,
Thank you for this interesting article regarding this toxic mess. Thankfully the Orange County Register covered it in detail over the past 10 years for those who took the time to read the paper. Add to that the extensive coverage by the politicians, it would take someone who lived thier life without taking the time to find out what was going on in thier own backyard.

Perhaps the city I lived in-Lake Forest- on the south side of the Base was more concerned than others around Orange County, and perhaps it was my circle of aquaintences that did thier research on this topic. And some of them were intelligent Marines who actually worked on the base, and to date have no lasting side effects.

It is interesting is that Orange County has the highest incidence of Breast Cancer in the US.

No need for a return comment. I am a busy person who won't be able to come back to this site.


Tim King to PD Ann: "Semper Fi Mac" is a book about Marines during the Korean War.  I was just responding to the comment poster named Tim who said "Semper Fi Brother".  I'm glad you brought up the Orange County Register; that is a great subject in itself when it comes to coverage of all the TCE-related contamination from my old base, El Toro.  My sources have been heavily involved for a long time and they contend that the paper missed an enormous list of important points regarding this toxic waste.  Their research seems very tight from what I have seen so far, and I think you are just starting to see what is to come- a very big ongoing, developing story that will bring to light an endless number of things that the paper along with other Orange County media has ignored, perhaps by choice. 

I understand that media groups have to do things in a hard economy that they might not consider under ideal conditions.  Things like allowing advertisers - who are connected to the developers making billions off the base closure - have what comes down to editorial control.   That is sad if it is true.  I do not know that to be true, but I suspect it might be. 

There is a lot that people in Orange County miss out on. 

There are few if any television stations covering the local, general Orange County news, the stations are all in LA.   This is how the FCC set things up back in 1947.   They allowed a certain number of TV stations to be built in a certain number of areas (markets), and over the years those licenses became very difficult to get.  Orange County has TV stations, but newsrooms are a rarity at best.  I understand there is one broadcast station presently doing a morning news show, I am glad to hear that.  The Orange County News Network was a good thing by all accounts.  My friend Darrel Hood reported there and he thought it was well received.  Long story short, when there are no TV reporters running down government corruption, there is little hope

This is the first exclusively "new media" investigation ever launched into this contaminated part of Orange County.  As a Marine, I served here, in the worst part of the whole problem; at MWSG-37.  I am receiving major contact from many parties over this series of stories and while you can write your comment, I will add any amount of commentary that I wish because this could be the tip of the iceberg of information that Dow Chemical and the Irvine Company and many other big players do not want released.  



John Dodson July 28, 2008 4:35 pm (Pacific time)


Great reporting. I was stationed @ El Toro from 1979-1982 and worked in the fuel pits for TAFDS. I have had lung issues for 20 years even though I don't smoke so I'll be waiting anxiously for someone to tell me I can go get screened for exposure at the local VA Hospital up here in Portland where I now live. Thanks for your coverage and Semper Fi. John

 John, First I recognized your name, then I read that you were in the fuel pits through '82.  I remember you, do you remember me?  You are even in Portland?  Wow, I am going to be anxious to see if you recall me, known for the most part always as "Private King".  I worked mostly at Fuel Farm Two under Fernandez and Zelinski.  Names: Elsasser, Gonzales, Hall, Sgt Major Bott... I have been at our  old haunt John and it is pretty weird, and it is sad that it is contaminated.  Please write here or email me at

Rosie the Riveter July 28, 2008 1:45 pm (Pacific time)

I have a friend who was stationed at El Toro in the '40's. She had a double masectomy in her 50's and has cancer of the stomach lining now. Looking at the pictures of the plume it has obviously migrated. Also, I believe it was only recently that TCE was ever mentioned in the Irvine Ranch Water District public notices. The Navy RAB meetings are attended by mostly those agencies that have a vested interest in down-playing the toxology reports - maybe the environmental insurer should get a clue. The Navy's assessment of the risk of toxins to the public is likened to assessing a potentional love interest - if you lower your standards, you'll never be disappointed. Semper fi, Tim. Someone has to print the real deal.


Tim King: Thank you very much for this comment

Tim Matthews July 28, 2008 12:44 pm (Pacific time)

This information has been publicly available since the Environmental Cleanup of El Toro began. Quite honestly, it's old news and full disclosure is available at the Irvine Library. Also, there is a RAB meeting every month for public participation in the El Toro cleanup. It is a Superfund site and was designated as such over a decade ago. You could Google the information and come up with more current and accurate data than this. Apparently, Salem was the only place that this story could be sold, it's old news everywhere else.
Semper Fi brother,

Tim King: Well thanks a lot Tim; aren't you are a real help.  If you were right, then I don't think I would have heard from almost a hundred former El Toro Marines since this round of reports began who had NOT A CLUE.  If you were a Marine you should figure there are Marines all over the nation who are in the dark.  Even people in Irvine do not profess to having a lot of knowledge about it.   Of course it is an old story, there are many "old stories" that people know jack squat about in this world, but this one could seriously help somebody who is unable to trace a particular TCE-related illness. The purpose of this story was not just for Salem, Oregon- what a silly thing for you to say.  Maybe you don't realize that the Web is a worldwide tool?  This is the latest in a series of  reports and if you are from one of the government agencies that is trying hard to make light of this, then your attitude makes sense, otherwise it is just plain silly.  The last report in this series detailed how the information is available at the Irvine Library, but I guess you missed that one.

Semper Fi Mac

Mike Shaffer July 28, 2008 12:13 pm (Pacific time)

Thanks for this report, though it is unnerving. My family lives in this area and there is a great deal of ignorance in Irvine when it comes to this looming problem.

Glen July 28, 2008 9:59 am (Pacific time)

Great investigation, Tim.

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