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Oct-24-2008 07:30printcomments

Orange County Turns Blind Eye to Toxicity of Former Marine Base

Orange County learns few lessons in the world of business as a toxic waste site is prepared for habitation.
Locked away behind a gate is El Toro's base housing area, and area where civilians were exposed to TCE contamination as well as Marines. Photo by Tim King

(SALEM, Ore.) - One of the only U.S. counties to ever declare bankruptcy, Orange County, California, has a bear of a problem on its hands. That problem is the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro; a shell of its former self that now rests within the confines of Irvine since being annexed.

El Toro was placed on the U.S. government's Base Realignment and Closure list and the last fighter jets lifted off the flight deck at El Toro in 1999. The initial plans for the reservation involved creating a new airport for Orange County; one that would have relieved the strain on traffic patterns at the John Wayne Airport. That plan was scrapped in favor of developing the area in to a housing community and park.

The big secret that hides behind the gates of this former military air base is that the Marines and Navy turned it into a virtual toxic waste dump. It isn't that much of a secret really, plenty of people know that trichloroethelyne or TCE, was used to clean planes here for decades and that it is a problem, but few comprehend the significance of the problem. (see: Contaminated Marine Base in Irvine Slated for Public Park and Community Development )

In fact, a story Monday in the Orange County Register is a class example of what has led Orange County and Irvine down this dark road. (see: OC Register Poll: Should Irvine let developer off hook for runway demolition?) You could call it media cooperation. Not a single word about TCE is mentioned in the article which discusses how the Lennar Corp. is probably going to be let off the hook for beginning the unauthorized destruction of the former base's runways.

I spent a week at El Toro this summer researching the problems surrounding the old base and the local government's obvious desire to reap the harvest of redeveloping El Toro. after parking for less than 15-minutes near the hangar I worked out of as Marine stationed here in the 1980's, I discovered that a substantial amount of tar had lifted from the parking lot and adhered to my car's tire. THAT is how toxic El Toro is, the TCE is dissolving the asphalt. Sound like a healthy place? (see: Deadly Toxic Chemicals From Marine Base Threaten Irvine Neighborhoods

The mayor and city council of Irvine have stated that "there is nothing wrong with the water at El Toro" on a number of occasions. When I visited their city council meeting, a police officer remained close to my location, where I stood with a very serious looking television camera. I was quite a surprise for this governmental body that is so accustomed to local media "playing ball" in a way that allows the madness to continue.

Research available inside the library at Irvine published by U.S. Navy contractors, indicate that a massive underground of TCE has contaminated the water tables beneath El Toro, and it is moving into the rest of Irvine at the approximate rate of two feet per day. TCE is deadly; levels of contact can cause liver failure, different types of cancer, lower stomach disorders and mutations in the children of those who are exposed. (see: TCE Expert Talks With Former El Toro Marine About Toxic Waste)

The government has been able to evade accountability with Marines and sailors stationed at El Toro because we are immune from suing over our former active duty status. But the civilians being impacted by this irresponsible attempt to develop the toxic land into a housing community do not face the same restrictions, and it seems likely that Orange County, Irvine and the Irvine Ranch Water District will all end up in court having their pants sued off.

The heat meter is already up. The developer Lennar has taken a major hit on the stock market over the past year, with stock prices moving from a high of $25, to the current value of $6.50. Another former Marine working this with me, Robert O'Down of New Jersey, learned that the latest financials as of Nov 2007 showed they had $800 million in cash, but were carrying inventories of over $4.5 billion.

It seems the bottom dropping out of the housing market could not come at a worse time. Residents of Orange County and Irvine should investigate the matter thoroughly and contact their local governments to voice their opposition to the development of El Toro as a housing community and park. Marines and former Marines just hearing about this are encouraged to drop me an email and get on the list for updates. The email is located below.

This is the Marine Corps section of Marine Corps articles


Tim King in 2008, covering the Iraq War

Tim King: Editor and Writer

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from The Associated Press the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, Electronic Media Association and The Red Cross In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for since the new format designed by Matt Lintz was launched in December, 2005.

Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 20+ countries and regions.

Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide with an emphasis on Palestine and Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Marines. You can write to Tim at this address: Visit Tim's Facebook page (

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Bob O'Dowd October 24, 2008 11:02 am (Pacific time)

Excellent reporting. The El Toro Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meets in Irvine on December 3rd. You can bet this topic will not be on their agenda. Marine veterans of El Toro are geographically spread over the entire country. I’m one of the thousands of El Toro veterans living outside of Orange County. The RAB represents the interests of local residents. That’s good. The TCE plume spreading into Orange County is a health threat to local residents.. Your investigative reports on El Toro are helping to spread the word to others. On the East coast, Congressional legislation was required to notify veterans of Camp Lejeune of their possible exposure to TCE in the base’s drinking water. Anyone living on a Superfund site would be concerned about their exposure to contaminants. The government has really fumbled the ball in not alerting El Toro veterans to this very serous health hazard. Anyone living in a neighborhood where 8,000 pounds of TCE were in the soil and groundwater would be concerned. Do we need Federal legislation just to let veterans know that they may have been exposed to TCE? The last time I checked there were 1,400 TCE contaminated military sites. Maybe that’s the real reason for the Federal government’s failure to notify veterans. Tim, keep up the good work!

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