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MCAS Tustin... California's Other Closed and Contaminated Marine BaseTim King Salem-News.com
Orange County may be in real trouble- contamination cases keep showing up.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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