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Feb 28, 2012 2:13 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Environmental Cleanup Efforts Continue At ANG Base In Westhampton

Feb 29, 2012 12:09 PM

Crews are continuing to monitor three airplane fuel spill sites at the New York Air National Guard base at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and recently took steps to speed up the degradation of pollutants with the installation of machines that pump air into contaminated groundwater.

ANG officials, meanwhile, have stressed that the sites are isolated and that the pollutants pose a minimal threat to people.

The areas in question, dubbed Sites 4 and 9 by ANG officials, are located next to each other and include a former aircraft refueling apron and a ramp drainage outfall that is connected to it. The third area, Site 7, is a former fire training area and officials are continuing to test nearby groundwater for jet fuel contaminants, according to Jody Murata, the program manager for the ANG’s 106th Rescue Wing.

A 2008 draft of a report is now being prepared by Science Applications International Corporation in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Ms. Murata said. The final version of the report is not expected for several years. The draft is based on soil and groundwater samples taken at the three sites and public input from a Proposed Remedial Action Plan report. Following that analysis, the company has continued to monitor the groundwater and soil at the three locations. Since that time, the ANG has installed air biosparging system equipment, including biosparge wells to treat groundwater, at Sites 4 and 9.

“Biosparge machines pump air into the groundwater to encourage bacteria to consume the fuel, speeding the degradation,” said Lieutenant Shaun Denton, the ANG’s base environmental manager.

The two sites are grassy areas situated between an asphalt parking lot and the main runway at Gabreski. According to Lt. Denton, two fuel spills occurred at those sites over the years. In July 1987, firefighters applied foam directly on a fuel spill to contain it. The second spill took place during the summer of 1994 when heavy rains caused 100 gallons of jet propellant to leak in the area, according to Lt. Denton. At that time, a soil sampling at those sites turned up levels of chlorobenzene, a degreasing agent, and arsenic, which is found in asphalt, that exceeded New York State Department of Environmental Conservation standards, sparking further testing and remediation.

Six monitoring wells were installed in 1998 after additional samples showed higher than acceptable levels of semi-volatile compounds. A 2004 report concluded that the groundwater at those sites was still contaminated and that an underground plume ran between Sites 4 and 9. At that point, geologists found higher than accepted levels of metal contaminants in the groundwater during testing.

In 2006, the plume was examined again. During that review, four new monitoring wells were installed and groundwater samples were taken from 30 feet below the water table. The findings of that sampling revealed high concentrations of benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes—petroleum-derived contaminants that can potentially damage the body’s central nervous system.

While traces of petroleum-based chemicals still showed up in soil more than a decade later, the 2008 report determined that “no further action” be taken to clean up those sites. Instead, officials intend to continue to bombard the contaminated soil with air to speed up the breakdown process, and will continue to allow the other contaminants to break down naturally though they intend to keep close tabs on that progress.

“We are letting nature take its course in those areas while continuing to monitor them,” Lt. Denton said. The sites cannot be closed until the pollutant levels fall within state-approved levels.

Site 7 was the setting for fire training exercises between 1943 and 1971, and involved 130 feet of taxiway at the southwest corner of the airport.

“During those exercises, they were pouring fuel on the ground and burning it for fire drill exercises,” Lt. Denton said, adding that a concrete barrier was added to the area in 1971 to better contain the fuel. Those drills were stopped in 1978.

The history of cleanup efforts at Site 7 dates back to 1989 when a series of monitoring wells were installed to gauge the impact of fuel contaminants on soil and groundwater. A 2001 report indicated that there was lead in the soil, but that the amount fell within a level deemed safe by the state. The likelihood of human exposure to groundwater at the site was minimal, according to the 2008 report, since “the distance to the nearest well is approximately 0.6 mile and there are no water wells within the site boundaries.” However, groundwater continues to be tested there.

Overall, the latest research shows that pollution at the three sites is contained and does not pose a risk to the surrounding environment or people, ANG officials said. Public records regarding the ongoing remediation work are available through the ANG.

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