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Senators Engage Air Force on Aggressive Kirtland Fuel Spill Cleanup

May 24, 2012
  • WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall are asking the Air Force to partner with county and state authorities to "conduct further scientific and technical analysis" to determine the scope of the Kirtland jet fuel leak and develop contingency plans for the continued safety of the drinking water.

    The Senators, who met with Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers in Washington last week for an update on the plume, wrote to him today in support of the Air Force's goal to cleanup the spill and ensure the area continues to meet federal drinking water standards in the future.

    "We welcome your goal to aggressively remove fuel to stabilize the spilled fuel plume by 2017," they wrote. "We realize that significant uncertainties remain, but agree it is important to set a strong goal to ensure protection of drinking water."

    The lawmakers also recommended that the Air Force continue to work in cooperation with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) and the New Mexico Environment Department to continue supporting area well monitoring, evaluating the nature of the plume, and regarding the progress of the cleanup efforts.

    "We recommend the Air Force continue to work cooperatively with the New Mexico Environment Department to ensure that the full size, extent, and characteristics of the fuel spill are known," the Senators wrote. "In the past several years, public estimates of the size of the spill have ranged from one million gallons to twenty-four million gallons. While cleaning up the spill is most important, such a broad range indicates that full characterization is incomplete. We urge the Air Force to take a precautionary approach and do what the appropriate scientific and technical experts recommend to characterize this spill."


    The full text of the letter is below:


    May 24, 2012

    The Honorable Terry Yonkers
    Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for
    Installations, Environment and Logistics
    1670 Air Force Pentagon
    Washington, DC 20330-1670

    Dear Assistant Secretary Yonkers:
    Thank you for visiting with us last week to discuss the cleanup of the Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) fuel spill in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We truly appreciate your ongoing attention to protecting the health and environment in and around KAFB.

    We welcome your goal to aggressively remove fuel to stabilize the spilled fuel plume by 2017. We realize that significant uncertainties remain, but agree it is important to set a strong goal to ensure protection of drinking water. We also appreciate the fact that the Air Force is committed to working with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) to ensure there are adequate contingency plans for safe and reliable drinking water in case any existing water wells are ever affected. To ensure success, it is critical for the Air Force to maintain focus on achieving this mission and devoting the financial resources necessary to do so.

    We would also like to follow up on our meeting with some recommendations in order to assist in resolving this issue and protecting the groundwater supplies that provide New Mexico's largest metropolitan area with drinking water. First, we recommend that the Air Force continue to work closely with the ABCWUA and assist them with the necessary resources to conduct further scientific and technical analysis of the size, extent, and characterization of the spill, along with the progress and effectiveness of the cleanup project. While we have no reason to believe that the Air Force's studies are inadequate, additional analysis would be a great help in maintaining public trust during this project.

    Second, we are aware that the Air Force is providing resources to ABCWUA to conduct monthly testing of water wells, which to date have shown no contamination. We urge continuation of this arrangement and expanding it if appropriate to ensure accurate information about the safety of groundwater and drinking water supplies.

    Finally, we recommend the Air Force continue to work cooperatively with the New Mexico Environment Department to ensure that the full size, extent, and characteristics of the fuel spill are known. In the past several years, public estimates of the size of the spill have ranged from one million gallons to twenty-four million gallons. While cleaning up the spill is most important, such a broad range indicates that full characterization is incomplete. We urge the Air Force to take a precautionary approach and do what the appropriate scientific and technical experts recommend to characterize this spill.

    Thank you for your service to our country and your personal dedication to this cleanup project. If we can assist you on this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.


    Sincerely,


    Jeff Bingaman
    United States Senator

    Tom Udall
    United States Senator

     

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