Jan-14-2009 03:00
Deadly Toxic Chemicals from El Toro Marine Base Affect Woodbridge in Irvine
Tim King Salem-News.com

The Internet is allowing the truth about this contaminated and closed down Marine air base to move into public view. Sign the petition to help Marines, the link is at the bottom of this article.

(IRVINE, Calif.) - A Salem-News.com series that began May 1st 2007 about deadly toxic contamination at the now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County, California, seemed like unwelcome news at the time to City of Irvine officials and public representatives for the Irvine Ranch Water District.

Loose lips sink ships, but so do plenty of other things. The ship in this case, was a huge development project planned by Lenar Homes that would have turned the dangerously polluted base into an upper end housing community and public park.

We write our share of military-related stories here at Salem-News.com; putting boots on the ground in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to bring you the personal stories, advocating for veterans rights, educating people about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and everything else in between.

The story of El Toro though, is close to heart because I served here as a Marine in 1981, '82 and '83.

El Toro is contaminated with many toxic chemicals and worse according to documents published by the U.S. Navy, and the main culprit is TCE, (trichloroethylene) a chemical degreaser used for decades to clean the parts of Marine jet fighters, then dumped into the groundwater system.

For the earlier years of the base that was built during WWII, El Toro residents and employees relied on base wells for water.

Then the government struck a deal with the Irvine Ranch Water District in approximately 1969, and the wells were reportedly shut down and replaced by Irvine Ranch water.

A former Marine named Robert O'Dowd who served at El Toro in the 1960's, is studying the wells and and the closure dates and he is always looking for information from people who know what happened during these years.

Anyone with information on that can write to him at consults03@comcast.net.

Many of the important documents O'Dowd is searching for are either "missing" according to government officials, or, In some cases, they simply don't comply with legal, public records requests. You can visit Robert's Website named for our old aviation group, MWSG37.com to learn more about this Website for Marine Wing Support Group 37. I was an embedded reporter in Iraq last summer, and spent time with Marines from MWSG-37. (see my article: Rat Patrol in Iraq: Air Wing Marines Fill Infantry Role -VIDEO)

New Media Interest

The Orange County Register is covering the TCE subject in recent weeks, exposing many of the allegations to a public that an increasing number of people believe has been decieved by the city and developers, into believing this was good, healthy land which it is not by so many accounts. (see: OC Register: Officials defend cleanup of toxic plume from old El Toro base

Again, the documents detailing the location of the TCE plume, its depth and other important data, is and has been available for the public to see in the Irvine Library at Woodbridge.

The proposed site of new luxury homes and the new "Great Park" in Orange County, is now leasing space to auto manufacturers who need a place to keep all the new cars that are being shipped to the U.S., where the suffering economy has greatly affected car sales. The flightline at this historic base holds a whole bunch of them.

A new Website in Orange County states that it is dedicated to exposing the situation there. eltoronow.com has added a brand new video that shows the Irvine City Council meeting from last night, January 13th 2009, which we have posted below. On the video, Bill Turner, who is seen in video reports I produced in Orange County last summer, gives a summary of the TCE contamination from El Toro that has traveled in an underground plume, squarely beneath Irvine's Woodbridge neighborhood. (see my article: Contaminated Marine Base in Irvine Slated for Public Park and Community Development: VIDEO REPORT.)

The site also draws attention to a California politician named Chris Cox who may have been involved in shady dealings that led to the base's closure in the first place, back in 1999.

In all honestly, the only thing that seems to have changed the picture and opened the eyes of even Irvine officials, is the Internet. Other awareness efforts have been launched, but our team of former Marines and other concerned citizens have a real network and our knowledge and amount of information grows exponentially.

The biggest concern to many is the Woodbridge community in Irvine where life may not be as good as it appears. One woman who testified to the Irvine City Council last night related one story after another about residents of Woodbridge contracting illnesses and dying in their mid-thirty's. I had to almost turn away because hearing about all of the suffering is nothing less than heart wrenching.

One Woodbridge resident who wrote to me two weeks ago, did not authorize the use of her name:

"I have recently discovered about the toxic contamination in the soil that has affected our water and air. I have asked the leasing office to terminate the lease but they will not allow. They say that since we don't have cold hard evidence, we do not have the right to terminate. I have shown them maps of the affected areas and the news article that was released on January 4, 2009 in the O.C. Register about the El Toro Marine Base toxic waste. I do not know what else I can do in this situation."

This is a problem that has been essentially unaddressed. The Environmental Protection Agency designated El Toro a "SuperFund Site" and then the agency basically went dormant when George W. Bush took over as President. It seems the EPA might be waking up one day soon and again, doing its job.

I asked the Irvine City Spokesman last summer what he knew about the TCE contamination and he really had nothing to say on that. Then an Irvine Police officer came and stood unusually close to me as I completed the interview. It was a little strange, I wonder what would have happened if I'd pressed the city spokesman too hard for information.

Problems for Woodbridge are today's issues that need to be addressed and remedied, despite the cost. A growing number of Marines and former Marines are in contact with me, as well as former base employees and others with family members who served at El Toro.

Then there is a whole group of associated people who are connected to the same problems at Camp Lejeue, the east coast Marine Infantry base. A number of Marines I am in contact with served at both bases over the years. There are thousands and thousands who are potentially affected.

Just today, I received an email from a woman who taught at the El Toro School during the 1990's.

"I experienced the worst series of continuing illness I've ever had as a teacher, as well as did my colleagues. Most of us used ALL our sick days each year, which weren't even sufficient. We experienced a high rate of teacher deaths, one case of a teacher going blind, cancers, student deaths from lukemias, brain tumors, and too many others to mention. We always knew we were being exposed to some kind of toxins, but our district didn't tend to agree with us, and we got little support."

Learning about the contamination just before last summer potentially explained a lot of things for my family. My son from my first marriage had a collapsed bowel at the age of four months. It was from out of nowhere and my otherwise perfectly healthy son almost didn't make it. Today he is healthy, but he had to undergo emergency surgery and that was a real scare.

TCE contamination can be passed down generations, and it can cause liver failure, intestinal disorders, mutations, different types of cancer and other problems.

My wife's first son was born with an epiglotis the size of a 40-year old man's. Today he has intestinal colitis. His natural father and I worked in what we now know, is the most polluted part of El Toro. The different aviation squadrons dumped the TCE into the ground and it traveled toward our hangar area, and it had been going on for decades before I ever got there.

I am really pleased about the new site eltoronow.com and also mwsg37.com. There are several other TCE-related sites also that can be found with a quick Google search.

Perhaps the most important mission at hand, is the gathering of signatures to force the government to act and notify people who were exposed to TCE that they could have health-related issues.

Robert O'Dowd and a few other El Toro veterans are collecting signatures for a petition to President Elect Obama and Congress to require the DOD to notify Marine and Navy veterans of El Toro and other military bases on the EPA Superfund list of the risks of exposure and health effects to contaminants. Please help the Marines by signing the Petition located here: http://thepetitionsite.com/1/marines-exposed-to-toxins

Follow this link to our stories about the Marine Corps and TCE

Eltoronow.com reports that on Tuesday, January 13th 2009, two citizens came forward and testified about the contamination under Irvine. As a result, Irvine's Larry Agran asked staff to look into what he called "selective testing".

ElToroNow.com believes Irvine's reaction is suspect, based on past history: "It may be a 'ploy' by the city of Irvine to make it look like something is being done because Irvine knows it's in real trouble—they have known about the contamination for many years, but they have been covering it up. If any testing IS done, it will need to be done by an independent, out-of-county third party, it will need to include ongoing testing of the water, air, and soil inside and outside of various homes, apartments, schools, places of worship, etc. in Irvine. The testing will also need to involve testing of Irvine residents themselves for TCE contamination. Finally, the testing must be done with citizen oversight to make sure the results aren't tampered with."

Prior to the meeting, this site received several emails from Irvine residents reporting a variety of cancers in the Irvine area. In one particular case, an emailer reported multiple cancers on his Irvine street, and on the next street over. Here is the Irvine City Council video from January 13th 2009, courtesy of eltoronow.com: