Edge of fuel contamination may have been found

December 2, 2012 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Results [auth] of preliminary tests on Albuquerque’s water supply suggest the Air Force may have found the edge of a plume of contaminated groundwater spreading outward from a decades-old jet fuel spill at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Jim Davis, head of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Resource Protection Division, told The Albuquerque Journal ( that water drawn from new wells beneath a southeast Albuquerque neighborhood that’s midway between the contamination and the nearest municipal drinking wells appears to be clean of contamination.

Davis said the new test results mean the current risk to drinking water is small.

Officials are awaiting confirmation of the results.

The fuel came from what officials now believe was a 40-year leak from underground pipes at a Kirtland aircraft fuel loading facility.

The leak was discovered in 1999. In 2007, Air Force investigations revealed the fuel had reached the water table and was moving off the Air Force base, beneath the neighborhoods of southeast Albuquerque and toward the city’s water wells.

Since then, the Air Force, under pressure from the Environment Department, has cast an ever-wider net of monitoring wells, trying to figure out how far the fuel has spread.

Drinking water has tested negative for contamination, but the key open questions have been how fast the fuel might be traveling and how close it has gotten to municipal drinking water wells. If the new test results hold up, it means the fuel is likely decades away from contaminating Albuquerque drinking water, with a buffer of more than half a mile between the jet fuel contamination and the nearest drinking water well, said University of New Mexico professor Bruce Thomson, a groundwater contamination expert.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority took a more cautious approach to the preliminary results.

While it is good news that the initial sampling results show no contamination, the utility wants to see more sampling in future months before it will be convinced that the area’s water is clean, said John Stomp, the utility’s chief operating officer.

“We’re happy that the first sampling looks clean,” Stomp said, “but I think we need to have more sampling events.”

Air Force spokeswoman Marie Vanover issued a statement that said the Air Force is awaiting quality control tests of the samples to ensure the results are accurate.

The Environment Department also took its own samples from the wells as an independent test, and they showed no signs of contamination, Davis said.

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