Air Force: No shortcuts in Kirtland AFB cleanup

By SCOTT TURNER | Albuquerque Journal | Published: November 14, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Tribune News Service) — The Air Force isn’t taking any “shortcuts” in its effort to clean up contamination caused by the decades-old jet fuel spill at Kirtland Air Force Base, officials said at a public meeting.

Kate Lynnes, senior adviser for the bulk fuels facility cleanup, said she understood the community’s frustration at the pace of the cleanup, but said the military branch didn’t “want to do too little.”

She said the Air Force was going to look at all the data it could before moving on to planning a permanent remedy, and even that had to go through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permitting process, which gives the New Mexico Environment Department the final say.

“The state has to give its OK,” Lynnes said. “They have to say we’re ready.”

NMED Resource Protection Division Director Stephanie Stringer said her agency was cooperating “heavily with the Air Force because we all want this cleaned up as soon as possible.”

Lynnes and Scott Clark of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center last week fielded questions about the cleanup, including the Air Force’s commitment to the project. Among those asking questions was Pete Stromberg. He said he was pleased progress was being made.

But Henry Cristobal was more skeptical. He voiced an opinion that the information shared by Lynnes, Clark and Bernie Bockisch of EA Engineering, Science and Technology did not reflect “reality.” He raised concerns about documents being withheld, the amount budgeted for the cleanup and reports rejected by NMED. He asked if the Air Force would “abandon” the cleanup. Lynnes and Clark said the Air Force had no intention of abandoning the project.

As of last week, the Air Force said it had treated 757 million gallons of water that had been contaminated by the jet fuel spill. It currently has four extraction wells and one injection well in operation as an interim measure trying to rid an area north of Ridgecrest Road of a groundwater ethylene dibromide contamination plume. There are 162 monitoring wells used in evaluating the plume, the Air Force said.

“Our goal is to kill this plume,” Clark said. He said this is the first quarter the Air Force isn’t finding evidence of the EDB plume north of Ridgecrest Road. The Air Force said 91% of the EDB mass has been removed by the pump-and-treat system.

“It’s working great,” Lynnes said. “It’s working just like we’ve designed it.”

But Cristobal said NMED said accidents could shut down the wells. Lynnes and Clark said that was the case recently with one of the wells when a catfish swam into the system. It briefly shut down one of the wells. A hotdog was used to lure the catfish out.

Lynnes said the pump-and-treat system, which has been in operation since 2015, “was the perfect application for EDB.”

But she said it may not be the right remedy for an area south of Ridgecrest near the source area.

“There’s no reason to get ahead of the science,” she said.

The area south of Ridgecrest contains other contaminants, such as benzene, in addition to EDB. But the fuel constituents in the area have not been found to be mobile or expanding like the EDB. The Air Force has conducted a soil-vapor extraction and used a method called “bioslurping” to address the contamination south of Ridgecrest. It is also running a pilot test in an effort for more rapid degradation of the fuel contaminants.

The pump-and-treat system was put into place north of Ridgecrest to keep the EDB plume from reaching municipal drinking water wells.

“The municipal wells have never been hit,” Clark said. “They will never get hit.”

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