Toxic cleanup 75 percent done at former George Air Force Base
By SHEA JOHNSON | Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. | Published: February 28, 2014
VICTORVILLE, Calif. — Ongoing since the early 1980s, an expected $150 million-plus cleanup of contaminated soil and groundwater at the former George Air Force Base is roughly 75 percent complete, an Air Force Civil Engineer Center spokeswoman said Wednesday. However, she said remnants of some chemicals may stick around for five centuries.
During the base’s active years between 1941 and 1992, routine aircraft maintenance tasks spilled or leaked contaminants such as jet fuel, gasoline, paints and solvents into the ground and water. Pesticides used in the base’s housing area also polluted the environment. George was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List in 1990.
Of 213 problem sites at the 5,062-acre facility, now Southern California Logistics Airport, 171 sites have so far been remedied, according to AFCEC spokeswoman Linda Geissinger.
After a site is deemed to be far enough along or fully rid of contamination, Air Force officials can transfer the property for several uses, including public benefit, economic development or a “federal-to-federal” swap, Geissinger said. Such shifts can provide a big-picture benchmark for how progress is materializing.
“We have transferred 4,196 acres of property,” she said, which leaves less than 900 acres remaining to be salvaged. “We’re on the home stretch.”
However, the cleanup has not been without setbacks. A revised plan is necessary to deal with a groundwater plume sullied by trichloroethene, also known as TCE, a probable human carcinogen widely used in industrial operations and employed at George AFB as a degreaser for jet engines.
Stalled since 2003, cleanup efforts at that plume — located 110 to 135 feet below the surface in the northeastern portions of the base, adjacent to the off-base area — have been unsuccessful and potentially counterproductive. The initial proposed remedy, a pump-and-treat extraction system, left TCE levels in the water largely not reduced and potentially spreading the plume, a revised proposed plan shows.
Regardless, Geissinger claims because there is no pathway for exposure, there is no threat to the public.
AFCEC officials are preparing to move forward with an alternative plan to treat the plume for the first time in more than 10 years. According to their preferred revised proposed plan, the chemicals in the groundwater would be cleaned up by natural processes and require long-term monitoring — an estimated 200 years for the upper aquifer and 500 years for the lower, documents show. Of five possible alternatives, none result in full completion in fewer than 200 years.
“I think the most important thing is the protection of public health and the environment,” Geissinger said. “With no pathway for exposure, this was deemed the best remedy.”
Officials also will continue to review their processes every five years to ensure they are working and not negatively affecting other cleanup zones, she said.
The preferred revised proposed plan, a result of collaboration between the AFCEC and regulators with the EPA and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, is subject to public scrutiny. Anyone who wishes to comment on the proposed plan can do so through March 21. A public meeting on Wednesday at City Hall attracted one individual, Geissinger said.
“In general, over years,” she said, “the interest and concern over George Air Force Base has waned.”
She says the cleanup thus far has cost the Air Force $100.92 million, with another $54.2 million expected to be needed. After the public comment period, officials will prepare a responsiveness summary to address any comments and then develop a decision document to say how they will address the cleanup moving forward.
Visit www.afcec.af.mil/brac/george/index.asp to review the plan. Contact Brian Sytsma with comments by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax him at 916-643-0460.
Comments also can be mailed to Mr. Bryan Sytsma, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, 3411 Olson St., McClellan CA 95652.