Air Force Takes Major Step in Cleaning Up New Mexico Fuel Leak

File:Kirtland Air Force Base 01.jpg

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Air Force has finally learned enough information to begin cleaning up a jet fuel leak from Albuquerque’s drinking water supply. The Kirtland Air Force Base plans to write and submit a report to the New Mexico Environmental Department before the agency can approve and make recommendations for cleanup.

This comes as a relief to citizen groups, state lawmakers, and New Mexico residents who live near the site and previously filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense, alleging a failure to adequately clean up pollution from Kirtland Air Force Base.

Why This Matters: This jet fuel plume has been oozing into the ground for decades after a supply line broke, and was first detected in 1999. The jet fuel contained an additive known as ethylene dibromide, or EBD, extended several miles north of the base, underneath residential areas. 

While the Air Force has maintained that the spill won’t affect residents living nearby, the U.S. EPA says that animal studies suggest that repeated exposure may poison the liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs. Approving a final cleanup plan would be a major step in reducing this spill’s risk to nearby communities.

“Still Work to Be Done”

The Air Force has already made progress on cleaning up the contaminated soil — 775,000 gallons of fuel has been removed from the water over the years, along with 5,000 tons of contaminated soil. The Air Force also installed a pump-and-treat system in 2015 that kept drinking water from becoming contaminated.

But some have felt that these efforts haven’t been enough. A group of lawmakers, residents, and nonprofit organizations asked a federal judge last year to enforce deadlines for the cleanup. But the judge argued that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the Air Force’s decisions.

This new plan suggests that the spill will finally be taken care of after many years. That said, the progress will be gradual. The state has up to nine months to review the report submitted by the Air Force, and upon its approval, the military will draft recommendations for final cleanup plans, with edits from the state. In the meantime, the Air Force will keep an eye on over 170 groundwater wells and 270 soil vapor points.

Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for New Mexico’s state Environment Department, told the Associated Press, “While significant progress has been made, there is still work to be done.”

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