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Digging for dirty needles in TCEQ's Kelly AFB haystack 

Greg M. Schwartz

[email protected]

Digging through TCEQ's voluminous files relating to the former Kelly AFB and the plethora of contamination issues that plagues San Antonio's “Toxic Triangle” is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. The agency has literally thousands of pages of documentation on Kelly relating to testing, remediation, interagency memos with EPA and environmental contractors, and challenges on such testing and subsequent judgements from local activists.

But an all-day slog through that hay produced several interesting data points that the Current will herewith be pursuing. On June 20, 2002, project geologist Kathleen Bradley of Earth Tech, Inc., communicated with TCEQ about a Class V Injection permit for four areas around Kelly. Not sure what that is yet, but the memo included maps for proposed wells and the QueQue wonders if TCEQ followed through with those well proposals. Austin-based environmental attorney Rick Lowerre has gone on record as saying that TCEQ's well monitoring of the toxic plume coming from Kelly is inadequate.

Then there's PAT, the Coalition Seeking Justice for People Affected by Toxins While Working or Living Near Military Installations. Back in 2002, PAT submitted a lengthy list of complaints to TCEQ (then TNRCC), alleging that the proposed remediation plan was technically incomplete and failed to address numerous issues with regard to contamination.

PAT alleged that the contamination from Kelly had drifted into not just the shallow alluvial aquifer but also into the underlying Edwards Aquifer. If that's true, all of San Antonio is in trouble. PAT cites work from none other than Dr. Katherine Squibb, the toxicologist who wrote about the shortcomings of analysis at Kelly in last week's new Congressional report that ripped ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) a new one.

A September 4, 2003 document reveals that TCEQ was once again using the infamous SPLP (Synthetic Precipitation Leachate Procedure) to clear some soil borings at Kelly's Building 424 of selenium contamination, a toxic heavy metal. The document indicates that the selenium concentrations had exceeded background levels at Kelly, only for the re-analysis with the SPLP to bring it in below the groundwater protection standard (just like SAHA environmental contractor Geo-Marine did with heavy metals at the former Swift site where SAHA is building low-income housing.)

The SPLP is the test that Neil Carman, clean air director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, has called a “phony test” that was “pretty much guaranteed to find no problem.”

Then there's an interoffice memo from June 29, 2007 that references exceedances of the highly toxic benzo(a)pyrene in sediment at Leon Creek, adajacent to Kelly, which could be contaminating fish in the creek.

“â?¦ATSDR, which uses different methodology and assumptions, concluded that consumption of fish caught in Leon Creek does not pose a threat to recereational anglers,” reads the memo. “However, the responses also indicate that DSHS `Texas Dept. of State health Services` has issued a fishing advisory for PCBs for Leon Creek Segment 1906â?¦”

And there's more. Stay tuned as the Current digs into all of these troubling data points, including impending interviews on the matters at hand with Dr. Squibb and Rep. Charlie Gonzalezâ?¦.

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