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Mar-13-2012 03:49printcommentsVideo

MCAS Tustin... California's Other Closed and Contaminated Marine Base

Orange County may be in real trouble- contamination cases keep showing up.

MCAS Tustin(LTA)
Salem-News.com photos of MCAS Tustin(LTA) by Bonnie King

(TUSTIN, CA) - We've written at length about the contamination of MCAS El Toro in Southern California, the now-closed Marine Corps air base that was a center of military defense for both Orange County and Los Angeles for half a century, however we haven't devoted very much space to a second nearby base, MCAS Tustin.

Both bases closed permanently in 1999 and the Third Air Wing Marines were shipped to Miramar, the Navy's 'Fighter Town, USA' made famous by the movie Top Gun. The Navy in turn, along with the fighter weapons school, was sent to train for naval missions in Fallon, Nevada - in the middle of the desert.

Strange story I know; it is bizarre that Marines were able to upseat the Navy and take over their prominent base that way, but there was not enough room and it was a very expensive operation as it turned out.

Just before El Toro closed, the helicopters that had traditionally been based at MCAS Tustin LTA (Lighter Than Air) - the WWII blimp base a few miles from El Toro, were moved to El Toro.

Those who already know that El Toro is a Superfund site, will not be surprised to learn that Tustin has similar problems and while there is no real support from the government at this point, it will do former Tustin Marines good to understand that their health may have been compromised just like the Marines from El Toro.

There are those like myself, who served at both bases. Please pass this story to all Marines who may have served at any of the 3rd Marine Air Wing bases and let's continue to bring people onto the same page.

Based on extensive investigation of the El Toro base that was carried out by Navy contractors, the place is best described as 'Toxic Soup' as our writer Roger Butow in Laguna Beach has reasoned.

As an EPA Superfund site, El Toro's MWG-37 area is so toxic, that the asphalt in a warm summer day becomes sticky and actually will adhere to your car tires after being parked for only fifteen or so minutes, as I learned in 2008.

The main contaminant is TCE - trichloroethylene, a chemical degreaser that was used to clean jet fighters. It was used to clean many other items also and Marines were never warned of its severe health-compromising effects.

Marines disposed of it improperly, simply pouring it into the ground, they were not trained in the radical impact their lack of environmental stewardship would ultimately have.

The TCE is far from the only contaminant prominent at El Toro, another is PCE - perchloroethylene, another chemical degreaser, and another is Benzene, a fuel ingredient that is extremely dangerous.

The list goes on and on, the various chemicals are cancer-causing, the types of cancer vary.

Lower stomach issues are commonly related including intestinal colitis which one of my sons suffers from. Another one of my sons born at El Toro, had a collapsed bowel at the age of four-months and narrowly survived. I had terrible lower stomach problems during my time at El Toro which was more than two years of service.

Some of my Marine Corps friends have died, some have lost children, many simply can not be located. My generation is only one; Salem-News.com writer Bob O'Dowd was at the base a few years before Roger Butow, and John Uldrich was there a few years before Robert, in the 50's.

Among the living are many cancer survivors. We have written about this extensively and again, there is no reason to suspect that Tustin Marines should be much better off than the rest of us.

According to the City of Tustin's, 'Tustin Legacy' Website, MCAS Tustin-(LTA) has an environmental history of contamination that includes but is not limited to, solvents and jet fuel supporting the base operations, and pesticides associated with the agricultural uses.

Salem-News.com's John Uldrich, Bob O'Dowd
and Tim King at MCAS Tustin in 2009.

    Former MCAS Tustin was extensively used for agriculture prior to being commissioned in 1942 for a lighter-than-air patrol base and re-commissioned in 1951 to support helicopter operations. Physical improvements installed over the years to support the mission of MCAS Tustin included: approximately 200 buildings and structures; a 3,000-foot runway, aircraft parking aprons; and aircraft maintenance shops. Support facilities, including military housing, occupied approximately 1,100 acres of the approximately 1,500 acres of the former MCAS Tustin. The remaining approximately 400 acres of the former MCAS Tustin was undeveloped and leased for commercial agricultural use.

    During the operation of former MCAS Tustin, certain contaminants were released into the soil and groundwater primarily resulting from, but not limited to, solvents and jet fuel supporting the base operations, and from pesticides associated with the agricultural uses. Since the initiation of the “Navy Assessment and Control of Installation Pollutants Program” in 1980 (which later became the current Installation Restoration Program (IRP)), the Navy has successfully completed numerous site investigations and remedial actions; however, contaminated groundwater plumes (VIEW MAP) remain. The chemicals of concern (COC) remaining in the groundwater are generally a result of fuel and solvents previously used in the operation of former MCAS Tustin.

    Remediation continues to be undertaken by the Department of the Navy under oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the California EPA (Department of Substances Control (DTSC) and Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB)). Information pertaining to the past and present remediation efforts can be found at the following locations:

From the article, Irvine Great Park CEO Michael
D. Ellzey: Is This Man An Imposter?
by Roger Butow

Navy contractors performed much of this work also, and all of the results are filed on the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) “EnviroStor” Website. The good news is that Tustin's Website includes the relevant Web links and the first few paragraphs about the base disclose the environmental problems.

This is in stark contrast to Irvine's handling of MCAS El Toro, which they have billed as a future park and housing community, for which it is vastly unfit as a dangerously toxic, EPA Superfund site.

Irvine will not even admit that the toxic ground and the heavily contaminated water plumes beneath the base are problematic. Irvine Mayor Larry Agran has been accused of any number of improprieties relating to El Toro's missing millions of dollars in development funds. The 'Great Park Corporation'- overseeing the 'park' project, and the city of Irvine are in quite a fix.

They do not have funds to continue, they spent them and then at the last minute, announced that they would not be tearing up the flightline after all, to extend the highly touted project.

As Roger Butow pointed out at the time, Agron knew damned well that the ground under the flightline was more toxic than anything we already knew about, they had no choice.

City Council Members Dr. Steven Choi and Christina Shea, worked with our reporters and tried to expose elements of the Irvine mayor's empty plans, however their efforts fell short and Shea is no longer in office.

Tustin, it seems, particularly because of what I gleaned during phone conversations I have held with city officials over the years, is far more responsible in its view and approach than the majority of Irvine councilors, and I applaud this.

Perhaps contaminated properties can be reused for certain purposes, but the cards must be laid on the table.

My Role at Tustin was to help reestablish a fuel farm that was needed to keep Tustin's aircraft flying. A few friends and I who normally performed 'tactical refueling' of Marine jets at El Toro, were sent to Tustin to revive the use of a large above-ground jet fuel tank.

The underground pipes that fed the fuel from the tank to the flightline had gone south. I can't say exactly what happened, I recall being told the lines had rusted out and I'm sure that probably is exactly what happened. If so, can anyone imagine how much jet fuel might have seeped into the ground?

We brought our above-ground fuel pumps and set up a tactical aircraft fueling system that tapped into the large above-ground tank and allowed us to refuel the Marine Corps CH-46, CH-53 Alpha and CH-53 Echo helicopters.

We normally used large fuel bags or fuel pods for these tactical operations as they were portable, so this was a hybrid or bastardized version of our normal operation, but it worked.

State documents confirm that problems at MCAS Tustin include hazardous waste, 'degreasing facility' (which obviously means TCE/PCE), aircraft storage/refueling, fuel-vehicle storage, refueling, fuel terminals, jet fuel storage/refueling, oil/water separators, transfer station, tanks/containers, underground storage tanks, above ground storage tanks.

Click for live Google Map

Problems in Orange

Orange County residents were shocked by the 28 February 2012 Los Angeles Times article by Nicole Santa Cruz, titled: 'Toxic chemical found under O.C. building', that cited levels of tetrachloroethylene exceeding safety standards - discovered beneath offices used by Orange County government agencies, including the Sheriff's Department and Social Services. The building has already led to two lawsuits.

    A toxic chemical used in dry cleaning and for degreasing equipment has been found underneath an Orange County building that is already the subject of two lawsuits, officials said Monday.

    Over the weekend, soil testing was conducted at the two-story office building that houses more than 550 county workers, including employees of the Orange County Social Services Agency and the Sheriff's Department. The testing, paid for by the county, was seen as a step forward in a years-long legal fight that includes former workers who say their time in the building caused birth defects, autoimmune diseases and cancer.

    Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or perc for short, was detected in an area of soil at 5 feet and 10 feet underground. At 10 feet, the level of the chemical's presence exceeded the California Human Health Screening Levels, said TerryLynn Fisher, public information officer for the Social Services Agency.

Dr. Phil Leveque of Salem-News.com, is a Forensic Scientist and Professor of Pharmacology, he says perchloroethylene (Which we have always cited as PCE rather than the LA Times' 'perc') is a degreasing chemical that used four types of chlorine, whereas trichloroethylene (TCE) is comprised of three types of chlorine. We know they were both used extensively at MCAS El Toro and MCAS Tustin. Dr. Leveque says it is a chemical frequently associated with dry cleaning operations, but we know the military used it, and we know that plumes of toxic chemicals flow from beneath El Toro and they are well-documented and significant.

In the Voice of OC article, Tests Reveal Likely Carcinogen Under County Building, Norberto Santana Jr. wrote on 5 March 2012, that "County officials, who have resisted calls for toxic testing at the site for years, are now moving to expand soils testing and will likely have the building evacuated."

In our article, TCE-Related Toxic Waste in Irvine Much Worse Than Previously Revealed from 8 February 2009, it was revealed that a toxic TCE plume from El Toro actually covered considerably more distance than previously believed.

    A 2001 document Salem-News.com received this week that originated from Don Zweifel, MCAS, El Toro charter RAB member & pro bono consultant to El Toro Local Redevelopment, indicates that the underground "plume" of TCE moving underground westward away from the old base, had traveled six miles, rather than three as previously indicated. Research underway today indicates that the plume has traveled a significant distance since the six mile mark was noted in 2001.

I am not a scientist, but I can look at the associated map and see that the plume from El Toro reaching Irvine, is stretching at least in the general direction of the contaminated government building in Orange. What is even more interesting, is that the Tustin base splits the distance between the two points.

Roger Butow has pointed to the fact that the system at MCAS El Toro to remove the TCE contamination from the groundwater, captures the toxic liquid and discharges it raw and untreated into the Pacific Ocean through an outfall pile a short distance off the coast of South Laguna.

So this means TCE from El Toro makes its way several miles to Irvine without a problem; what they can pull out is shipped due west to the ocean as sewage, and now Orange has a suspiciously similar problem.

Is there a connection? Has Orange County been utterly devastated by TCE and PCE? It appears increasingly to be the case.

Tests Reveal Likely Carcinogen Under Social Services Building - Norberto Santana Jr. - Voice of OC

Toxic chemical found under O.C. building - Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

TCE-Related Toxic Waste in Irvine Much Worse Than Previously Revealed Tim King Salem-News.com




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Iris June 20, 2012 2:16 pm (Pacific time)

Thanks, I currently live in the new homes by tustin fields. I was just tested for heavy metals and was found to have arsenic and lead, mercury and 2 others whose name i can't remember. I have a baby and this is caused to move out asap!! How sad and gets me and how the city of Irvine know and they are just money hungry and dont care about the residents!!

Editor: Iris, needless to say we are very concerned to hear of this, I have heard from many people who are impacted but this might be the most severe case I have heard of and it sounds like you have it backed up.  I would like to know more, if you don't mind, please drop an email to me, tim@salem-news.com  I appreciate your contact very much and we protect the privacy of those we work with, thank you.

Tim King

Salem-News.com 


Alex March 20, 2012 7:23 pm (Pacific time)

Tim,

Thank you for reporting this. As a long time resident of Orange County, it's been hard to find out why this land hasn't been put to use sooner (besides the economy being what it is). Thanks for shedding light, especially being as far away as you are.

Tim King: Thank you Alex, it is very important to me also, a population well worth saving.


Susan King March 14, 2012 11:58 pm (Pacific time)

Thanks Tim, great article. Did you know your niece, her husband and your great niece live in Santa Ana right beside Tustin. And prior to that lived in Laguna Hills. Will try to send this article to them.

Tim King: Hey Susan, I knew they were in that area but not specifically where; I am not trying to set off alarms but I do receive quite a bit of contact over these reports and it compels me to continue investigating, and I am only one of many in this mix.  Tustin is a really nice place, let's hope for the best, thanks so much.


Eric White March 13, 2012 2:10 pm (Pacific time)

Thank you for covering Tustin, many people are not aware as MCAS Tustin is not a large bleep on anyone's radar anymore.  It does seem like the city is being somewhat transparent in dealing with the toxic matter and while that is the least they can do, it is still noticeably better in spirit than Irvine as noted in this article.  


Ray U Urban March 13, 2012 2:09 pm (Pacific time)

Was in the first group of 50 to open ElToro- Ran into a volunteer at the WWII Museum NEw Orleans, La., he raised the flag at the opening ceremonies, left El Toro with VMF 212 first stop Hawaii then Midway, more islands after that -- ElToro holds many memories

Tim King: Ray, that is so amazing to read, it must be tough to see it as it is today, if you can share any details about the earliest days I would be extremely interested,


Rod Bray March 13, 2012 9:00 am (Pacific time)

Thanks for the recent articles regarding MCAS El Toro and MCAS Tustin (LTA). When I was growing up my father was a Marine Corps helicopter pilot and spent many years stationed at the MCAS Tustin facility. Prior to his retirement in 1973 he had held positions as the commander of HMH-363, base Operations Officer and base Executive Commander. He spent 23 years in the Marine Corps and approximately 10 of those years stationed at Tustin. He past away in 2003 in Salem as a result of many medical complications.

As a teenager I worked for the Post Exchange (PX) at El Toro and Camp Pendleton. All of these bases have great historical significance to the country and So. Cal., not to mention the great memories for families like mine. It is a tragedy that the legacy of the sites will be this environmental disaster. I hope that the federal government will do the right thing and not allow these contaminated sites to be passed off on unsuspecting local governments which would only make the exposure to the public worse.

Keep up the good work!

Tim King: Thanks very much Rod for pointing out these important facts, your dad's service was valuable to this country and I am sorry you lost him.  I remember the base exchange at El Toro well, there is a great deal to keep up on, thanks for writing.  

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