On August 27, the Texas Department of Health issued a fish advisory for Lower Leon Creek after it detected high levels of PCBs in spotted gar and carp. The section pictured here is near New Laredo Highway, downstream of the contaminated area. Photo by Lisa Sorg
When high levels of PCBs turned up in fish swimming in Lower Leon Creek near Kelly Air Force Base, many area residents suspected the former military installation to be the source, as it is ground zero for an underground plume of other contamination that has infiltrated a nearby neighborhood.

`See related story, "Carp, with a side of Arochlor," Current, September 17-23.`

So the Air Force decided the best offense is defensiveness at a September 9 public meeting about PCB contamination, where Ed Roberson, environmental flight chief at Lackland Air Force Base, boldly proclaimed, "We are not the source of PCBs."

On August 27, the Texas Department of Health issued an advisory for a portion of Leon Creek, warning people not to eat fish from there.

The September 9 meeting was hosted by the Technical Advisory Committee, which is a subcommittee of the Kelly Air Force Base's Restoration Advisory Board. That board is helping to oversee the cleanup at Kelly.

Roberson said the Air Force has been monitoring Leon Creek annually since 1989, and while PCBs have been detected, none were at levels that would have triggered an advisory - until now. "It's unfortunate that they're `PCBs` there," Roberson said, reiterating that Kelly's landfills, which are buried beneath the golf course, are not leaking PCB contamination into the creek. "We have sampled groundwater from the golf course. There are no PCBs."

However, Roberson refused to answer a question from committee member Armando Quintanilla, who lived near Kelly until contamination from the base - fuels and solvents - forced him from his home. Until sampling proved otherwise, Kelly denied any link with the toxins in Quintanilla's yard.

"Are there transformers buried in the landfill?" Quintanilla asked Roberson.

"Did you have a transformer in your yard?" replied Roberson, whose face turned as pink as Atlantic salmon.

Until they were banned in the 1970s, PCBs were widely used in electric transformers, even fluorescent lights, as a coolant. Roberson tried to cite PCBs' omnipresence to downplay their danger as a cancer-causing chemical that can also result in developmental and reproductive problems, as well as anemia, acne-like skin conditions, and liver, stomach, and thyroid illnesses. "They were in every electric transformer in the city."

They were also found in Kelly's Building 1592. A 1999 federal report showed that Kelly stored transformers and other wastes there, and that PCBs were detected in surrounding soil. Road work, construction, and backfilling have made it impossible to trace any migration of the contamination, the report said. Roberson erroneously claimed that PCBs can't kill fish. While this is true for concentrations found in Leon Creek, in Anniston, Alabama, where Monsanto surreptitiously released tons of PCBs for decades, fish dunked in contaminated creek water turned belly up, spurted blood, and lost their skin as if being boiled alive.

Roberson also brushed off the TDH's warning: "The TDH plays things very conservatively. They would probably issue a health warning about lightning and tell people not to go outside."

Lightning kills about 73 people each year.

The TDH can't conduct more tests in Leon Creek without additional funding. The Air Force anted up $41,000 for the recent tests, but has no plans to allocate any more funds. "I won't use my money looking for an unknown source," Roberson said. •

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