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Fuel spill study confirms wells safe for now

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An independent federal assessment released Friday confirmed state and local officials’ assertion that no contamination from an extensive Kirtland Air Force Base aviation fuel spill has reached the metro area’s drinking water supply.

The assessment, from a team based at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, also concluded that fuel vapors in and around the area of the spill, including the city of Albuquerque’s Bullhead Park and the nearby VA Regional Medical Center, are not likely to pose a threat to area workers or the public.

Mark Evans, the scientist who did the analysis for the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, gave a telephone report on his findings Friday morning to the metro area’s Water Protection Advisory Board. Evans will be in Albuquerque for a public meeting July 30 to explain his findings. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at the city of Albuquerque’s Cesar Chavez Community Center, 7505 Kathryn SE.

The Air Force in 1999 discovered that a buried fuel line at the base, on Albuquerque’s south side, had been slowly leaking for decades. Area groundwater has been contaminated, and the latest Air Force data show that the spill’s most serious contaminants are still moving toward drinking water wells.

Evans assessed a wide range of data that has been collected on the spill itself as well as air and water samples collected from drinking water wells nearby operated by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and Kirtland Air Force Base.


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Evans told advisory board members that if the spilled fuel continues to spread through groundwater, early detection will be the key to protecting public health from the potentially dangerous chemicals in the fuel.

“That means either the Air Force or the water authority shutting down wells if they become contaminated, or before they become contaminated,” Evans said.

Erik Webb, the water protection board’s chair, agreed that the ultimate protection for public health will be to shut off any contaminated supplies. “They will not just put contaminated water in the drinking water system,” Webb said. But the problem raises a significant question about how Albuquerque might replace the lost supply, Webb said.

The water utility is currently working on a study to develop contingency plans for meeting area water supply needs in the case the fuel reaches its wells.