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Kirtland Jet Fuel Spill Prompts Teach-In

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A University of New Mexico chemist, frustrated by the difficulty of helping the public understand the complexities of the risk to Albuquerque’s groundwater from a Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill, has organized a “teach-in” today.

Steve Cabaniss said he got the idea for the “public education session” after listening to questions asked by members of the public attending meetings organized by the Air Force and others over the last year regarding the spill. Cabaniss, a faculty member in UNM’s Water Resources Program, said he saw a need for independent experts to try to share with the public what we do and don’t know about the spill and what is being done and what can be done to deal with it.

The Air Force discovered in the late 1990s that a buried pipe at the base’s jet fuel loading area had been leaking for decades. Initially, they thought the spilled fuel was confined to soil around the site. But in 1997, a test well found that it had reached the water table 500 feet below the ground. Efforts since to deal with the problem include extensive drilling of test wells to determine the spill’s spread and a network of what amount to giant vacuum cleaners sucking fuel vapors out of the soil. But critics, including the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, have questioned whether enough is being done to protect Albuquerque’s drinking water.

Possible signs of contamination have been found beneath a southeast Albuquerque neighborhood a mile from the site of the spill, about a mile from the nearest Albuquerque drinking water well, and the Air Force has funded special testing by the water utility to quickly detect if the contamination reaches the drinking water supply.


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Among the experts making presentations at the meeting will be a professor of pharmaceutical sciences to discuss health issues related to the contaminants involved, hydrologists to talk about what we do and don’t know about the movement of water in the aquifer, and the head of UNM’s Water Resources Program, Bruce Thomson, who has served on the city-county Groundwater Protection Advisory Board.

Cabaniss noted that the meeting is not sponsored by the Air Force, the New Mexico Environment Department or any other government agency with a stake in the contamination problem and cleanup effort.

The meeting runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, 7505 Kathryn SE (near the corner of Louisiana and Kathryn).
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal