Navy Buries Forever Chemical Contamination in Socal

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For Immediate Release: Mar 13, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Navy Buries Forever Chemical Contamination in Socal

Washington, DC — The U.S. Navy refuses to come clean about major groundwater pollution at two former bases in Southern California that may threaten public health, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The suit involves per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS, chemicals used in firefighting foams that do not break down in the environment (hence the “forever chemical” label) and bioaccumulate in the food chain.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lifetime Health Advisory for PFAS in drinking water is 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt). The Pentagon’s March 2018 report to Congress states that six on-base groundwater wells at former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro have PFAS levels as high as 3,826 ppt while former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin has three wells with PFAS levels as high as 770,000 ppt.

On both these bases, there are aquifers that supply drinking water to nearby residents and that may migrate into and contaminate nearby public drinking water sources. Significantly, the report under “Key Actions Planned for FY 2018 and Beyond” states the following about these two bases: “Notification of sampling results to property owner and/or regulatory stakeholders.”

PEER has received whistleblower reports that the Navy has not notified regulators or residents, nor has it delineated these plumes to determine if they have spread. PEER today filed suit to compel the Navy to release information to satisfy a months-old Freedom of Information Act request for –

  • The sampling data for each groundwater well serving the two former bases;
  • The documents explaining why the Navy decided not to delineate PFAS plumes at either base; and
  • Records confirming that the Navy failed to disclose the PFAS contamination in its Finding of Suitability for Transfer the properties for municipal, commercial, and residential development.

“It does not appear that the Navy informed its neighbors in Orange County about this PFAS legacy before conveying these bases for civilian use,” stated PEER Pacific Director Jeff Ruch, noting that a recreational center surrounded by residential and commercial development is slated for El Toro while the City of Tustin has already taken title with a middle and high school slated for two parcels of that base.

PFAS are associated with birth defects, developmental damage to infants, the liver, kidneys, and the immune system, as well as a cancer risk. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has added them to the state’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause reproductive toxicity.

While the military is not the only source of PFAS pollution, it is a major one. The Department of Defense tallies 401 bases with known PFAS plumes, 90 of which, including 1,621 drinking water wells, have PFAS levels above the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory. California has the largest share of contaminated bases, with 18.

“Unlike several of the other bases, there is no cleanup plan or even a commitment for one at Tustin and El Toro,” Ruch added.


 Read the PEER lawsuit

View latest Pentagon PFAS report (El Toro and Tustin data is on page 37)

See the state PFAS classification

Contrast a town where the Pentagon is taking responsibility

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