Year in Review: Toxic Triangle testing drags on 

The EPA took air samples back in May in the Toxic Triangle surrounding former Kelly Air Force Base, where local residents fear contaminated groundwater is responsible for a rash of cancer cases and other diseases. Results from these tests were revealed in August, but local station WOAI reported just last month that EPA is still running those tests. So what’s the deal?

Gary Miller, a senior permitting specialist for EPA Region 6, says the agency presented the results to homeowners in August and that none of the vapor intrusion test data for tetrachloroethene (PCE) was “above screening levels of concern.” Gas from soil was tested at 20 homes, while five homes received indoor air testing, but thanks to public pressure, EPA has agreed to come back for further sampling in February in the North Kelly Gardens area. Miller says EPA will also look at two other neighborhoods — one off Quintana Road, between the main base and East Kelly, and another off Commercial Street.

“The EPA’s study is too little and too late,” says Lara Cushing, environmental-justice coordinator for the Southwest Workers Union. She notes that two of the five indoor air samplings showed what EPA calls a “site specific” level of concern for PCE, meaning not high but not low either, and that indoor air was not sampled in the home with the highest soil-contamination results.

“While five is an extremely small number of homes, and the results are not off the charts, they do show for the first time that vapor intrusion is happening here,” says Cushing. “More importantly, they indicate that for decades while the plume concentrations were higher, hundreds if not thousands of families were likely breathing dangerous levels of gas inside their homes that elevated their risk of getting cancer. It also raises real concern about what workers at Boeing and Lockheed Martin may be breathing today, since they work above the most contaminated source area for the plumes. Port San Antonio and the Air Force have denied EPA access to test in those buildings. So while the Air Force continues to fund studies to test tortillas for cancer-causing fungi, and the EPA tells residents not to worry, the community’s right to a clean up, health care, and justice are as strong as ever.”

EPA’s Miller says the agency will select 10-15 homes to test further, but that EPA has only been able to access 50 percent of the homes they’ve requested permission to test. Anyone with concerns about a home in one of the aforementioned areas should contact Miller immediately at (214) 665-8306 or miller.gary@epa.gov. And do let the Current know about your inquiry so we can follow your efforts.


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