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Frequently Asked Questions

How much is the Air Force prepared to spend to clean up this fuel plume, to include the cost of new wells or well-head treatment?

    The Air Force has a strong cleanup program and receives funding on a yearly basis through Congressional appropriations. The Air Force is required to fund its cleanup projects such as the fuel leak at Kirtland AFB. For the fuel plume at Kirtland, the Air Force has established a goal to clean up the fuel plume to drinking water standards. To this end, the Air Force continues working to put in place systems designed to contain the fuel plume and prevent impacts to the water production wells.

Are there plans for emergency treatment at water production wells?

    The Air Force is working with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) to develop a contingency plan for action should water production wells be impacted by the fuel plume.

What type of fuel was spilled at Kirtland AFB?

    Three types of fuel were processed by the Bulk Fuels Facility: aviation fuel (AvGas) or high-octane gasoline, jet propellant fuel-4 (JP-4), and JP-8. AvGas and JP-4 use was phased out in 1975 and 1993, respectively. JP-8 use continued until the leak was discovered in 1999.

What is the full array of hazardous chemicals present in the plume?

    Both jet fuels and gasoline are produced from crude petroleum and are composed of a large number of chemicals. The most common contaminants of concern which drive risk and remedy selection are benzenes, toluenes, ethylbenzenes, and xylenes, commonly referred to as BTEX. Historically, leaded gasoline fuels, whether used in automobiles or for aviation purposes (i,e., AvGas) contained ethylene dibromide (EDB) as an anti-knock agent. Jet propellant fuels, on the other hand, are derived from kerosene, do not contain lead and therefore do not contain EDB. EDB is the chemical found at the leading edge of this plume.

How effective is the new SVE unit?

    The SVE catalytic oxidizer (CATOX) unit is an improved SVE system specifically designed to optimize the removal and treatment of soil vapor and directly target the fuel plume. Initial testing and evaluation of the new system indicates the system can treat a larger footprint, allowing for more efficient and effective remediation.

How does leaked fuel behave underground?

    The fuel will take the path of least resistance through the dry soil and unsaturated ‘vadose’ zone (soil area above the water table that is partly filled with both air and water) until it reaches the water table. Fuel contaminants in the unsaturated zone exist in four phases: 1) vapor in the pore spaces, 2) attached to subsurface solids, 3) dissolved in water, or 4) undissolved as non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPL). The nature and extent of fuel movement are determined by the interactions among contaminant transport properties (e.g., density, vapor pressure, viscosity, and hydrophobicity – or inability to dissolve in water) and the subsurface environment (e.g., geology, aquifer mineralogy, and groundwater hydrology). Most fuel-derived contaminants are less dense than water and can be detected as floating pools (LNAPLs) on the water table.

How will the rising groundwater affect interim measure performance and selection of the final remedy?

    The rising groundwater will not have an effect on how productive the current SVE CATOX treatment system is. The wells being used in the SVE treatment system are screened over a large portion of the vadose zone, providing access to the contamination source. Additionally, technologies are being evaluated and designed to address groundwater contamination.

    Selection of the final remedy, through the Corrective Measures Evaluation and Implementation phases, will consider the rising water table.

Why hasn’t the Air Force already cleaned up this fuel spill?

    In 1999, the Air Force discovered the fuel spill and immediately started remediation activities, including the installation of a soil remediation system which began extracting fuel from the soil in 2003. The Air Force’s remediation efforts have been directed by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the state regulatory agency responsible for overseeing environmental remediation. In accordance with the RCRA permit under which the Air Force operates, all documents and actions require approval from NMED. Effective cleanup of the contamination depends on defining the type and extent of the contamination plume enabling it to be approached from every necessary angle. Both the Air Force and NMED want to remove the fuel contaminants from the ground and groundwater as quickly, safely, and effectively as possible, and the Air Force is dedicating the necessary resources to accomplish this objective.

Why is it taking so long to clean up?

    It seems like it is taking a long time to clean up the fuel plume; however, interim measures have been in place since 2003 and more information is being collected about the extent of the plume, which is vital to ultimately cleaning it up. While the spill most likely occurred over a period of decades, evidence of a leak was only discovered in 1999. At that point, the Air Force started to investigate the soil around the spill area, collecting soil samples from a wide area and groundwater samples from directly below the spill site. Sample analysis showed that contamination was in the soil layers to a depth of nearly 350 feet, but no fuel product was apparent in the water below the release site.

    In 2003, one SVE unit was put into service to remediate the contamination identified in the soil. Three additional SVE units were installed in 2004 to more aggressively remediate the source. In January 2007, a groundwater monitoring well at a location outside of the spill area was proposed and installed by Kirtland AFB Environmental Program based on indications of persistent vapor plume readings to the east of the original spill location. After the well was installed, LNAPL, or fuel was discovered on the water table at the new well location. Since 1999, the Air Force has planned and programmed resources to support investigation and cleanup of this site as efficiently and effectively as possible and will continue this support until the effort is complete.

Are we in danger of having our drinking water contaminated?

    Albuquerque’s drinking water remains safe. Interim measures approved by NMED will ensure that the Albuquerque, New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System, and Kirtland Air Force Base water production wells provide safe, clean drinking water. The City of Albuquerque water production wells are sampled monthly to monitor for drinking water safety; to date, no contaminants have been detected in the water samples. Neighborhoods over the fuel migration area do not obtain their drinking water from the ground directly beneath their homes. Rather, they get their drinking water from Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority well fields to the north of the spill, which remain safe and are beyond the current area impacted by the spill.

    The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is currently conducting an evaluation of the site data to determine risk to human health. The report is expected to be available for public comment in the summer 2013.