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Editorial: Kirtland fuel spill cleanup well finally gets green light

Real remediation efforts to clean up a massive underground jet fuel spill that has spread outside of Kirtland Air Force Base will begin soon. Neighbors and the entire Albuquerque community welcome the news.

Fuel leaked for decades at a bulk fuel facility built in the 1950s at Kirtland, but the Air Force did not detect it until 1999. For years, little was done to clean the fuel until it was discovered that a plume of contaminated liquid had moved off the base and posed a threat to Albuquerque’s drinking water supply. The contaminant is ethylene dibromide, a highly soluble, toxic and carcinogenic component of aviation fuel. Estimates range from 6 million to 24 million gallons of jet fuel in the plume.

Concerned residents, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and the state Environment Department began pressing the issue, appropriately demanding that nearby drinking water wells be protected and that the groundwater be cleaned up – which the Air Force has pledged to do.

Years of study, thousands of pages of reports and several missed deadlines have pushed implementation of an interim cleanup plan from fall 2013 to this year. The Air Force missed a Dec. 31 deadline for the plan, resulting in a January “notice of violation” from the Environment Department that said the Air Force faced a civil penalty of up to $10,000 and an additional $5,000 for each day the violation continues, although those penalties could be mitigated if the Air Force acted by June 30.

That deadline is poised to be met if the first of eight groundwater remediation wells is drilled as planned next month in a church parking lot near the base. The well is expected to be operating by the end of June. It will pump out contaminated water and send it to an activated carbon-filter cleaning system on the base.

Now that real action is being taken, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief and work toward common goals – cleaning up the groundwater and protecting the municipal water supply.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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