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Panel reviews Navy cleanup

Work is continuing slowly but surely to cleanse Whidbey Island Naval Air Station of decades of chemical contamination.

NAS Whidbey Island’s Restoration Advisory Board met Thursday in Oak Harbor to discuss the second Five Year Review of NASWI Installation Restoration Program.

The report was supposed to be completed by Sept. 30, 2003, but it was not finalized until April 15 of this year. Better late than never, the report shows an overall steady cleanup of the EPA Superfund site at Ault Field and the state-monitored site at the Seaplane Base.

The cleanup will continue indefinitely, until the sites reach acceptable levels of contamination. The Ault Field sites qualified for the Superfund designation, and funding, by scoring high enough on the EPA’s Hazard Ranking System. Factors included the likelihood that a site has released or has the potential to release hazardous substances into the environment, toxicity and quantity of waste and number of people or sensitive environments affected by the release.

In the first phase of the cleanup all area landowners had to abandon their private wells and hook up to the city water supply as a precaution. Groundwater monitors were installed at all sites to measure any chemicals leaching into the surrounding areas.

Now, almost 15 years later, John Mosher, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island environmental protection specialist, said progress is mostly showing a decrease in the amount of chemicals removed from the soil and water, with a few spikes in the downward trend.

Area 6, the old Navy landfill, has shown a slight increase in the amount of the chemical 1,1,1-trichloroethane at two wells along the southern boundary of the site. Mosher didn’t have an explanation for the increase, but said it was still below the compliance level.

Water from the site is cleaned using a “pump-and-treat” containment system, in which groundwater is pumped from a series of wells along the landfill’s western and southern boundaries and chemicals are removed in an evaporation process. Treated water is then discharged to a pond-like recharge swale, where it slowly seeps back into the ground.

Rick Dinicola, hydrogeologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said water from the landfill area flows south toward the Seaplane Base and Crescent Harbor.

A new issue at Area 6 is the discovery of the chemical 1,4- dioxane.

“It’s the hot topic at Area 6 right now,” Mosher told the group of scientists and community members.

It’s not that dioxane has just shown up, he explained, but rather that there were no EPA set levels, and no way of testing for it until last year.

“It is potentially more mobile,” Mosher said, and they haven’t found the leading edge of the underground plume. Dioxane is defined in Webster’s as “a flammable liquid toxic diether, used especially as a solvent.”

Current treatment methods at the site can’t remove dioxane, he said, and it moves with and dissolves in water. The groundwater from the site flows toward the old city landfill, adjacent to the Navy landfill.

Mosher said four wells at the site will be reopened to help monitor the 1,4-dioxane plume.

Site 55, known as the “oil and acid pits” at the landfill, has shown little change in soil gas vapor monitoring from that done in 2000, and Mosher said they are trying to determine what may be causing that. The next round of testing is scheduled for 2009.

Area 51, the old fire fighting school at Ault Field, continues to show high concentrations of petroleum contaminants, but concentrations drop off at wells down grade from the site. Two additional monitoring wells are installed in January along the northern edge of the plume.

Area 52, the jet engine test cell at Ault Field, showed no significant change, although recovery of petroleum products continues to decline. Product recovery is averaging about five gallons a month, Mosher said.

Not part of the Navy’s Superfund cleanup, but still on its radar is state-mandated cleanup at the fuel farm on the Seaplane Base.

Mosher reported all four fuel farms are still being monitored and cleaned up, with no expansion of the petroleum plume. The sites have soil and groundwater contamination from past petroleum spills. All four fuel farms are planned for closure in the future when a new above ground storage tank facility is built.

As with the Superfund sites, petroleum recovery at the fuel farms will continue until cleanup goals are met.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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