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Tinker and the Aquifer

Cross-posted at Sky Dancing.

Welcome to the second in a series of post on Chromium 6 or Hexavalent Chromium. In my first post, Water Water Everywhere…Chromium 6, I discussed the basics of this highly toxic chemical, the serious health effects, the system used to remove it from your tap water and the lack of regulation for maximum amounts of Chrome 6 in drinking/tap water at the federal level.

In this post I will examine one town in particular, Norman, OK, which according to the recent EWG report had the highest level of Chromium 6 in the county tap water. Norman is a city just outside Oklahoma City, in the county of Cleveland. The counties that are adjacent to Cleveland are Oklahoma County to the north, Pottawatomie County to the east, McClain County to the south and west, and Canadian County to the northwest. The aquifer that supplies water to the population of this area of Central Oklahoma is the Garber-Wellington Aquifer.

The Garber-Wellington formation is the major aquifer in Central Oklahoma. The GarberWellington Aquifer is Lower Permian, Leonardian in age (Woods and Burton, 1968, Simpson, 1973). The water-bearing portions of the Garber and Wellington formations cover an area roughly two thousand square miles and contain approximately 5 trillion gallons of water. Over 400 public water-supply wells and more than 20,000 domestic wells tap into this resource. Figure 3-2 shows the generalized area of the Garber-Wellington aquifer, which covers most of Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties.

Figure 3-2 shows the generalized area of the Garber-Wellington aquifer, which covers most of Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties.

The domestic wells completed in the Garber-Wellington Aquifer can be quite varied in depth and construction. Most wells are 100-500 feet deep and cased with five- to seven- inch steel casing. The bottom 25-200 feet of the casing is slotted. The entire casing except the top ten feet is gravel packed with 15-20 to 30-40 “Colorado Frac Sand”. The top ten feet of the casing must be cemented to reduce surface water pollution. These wells yield 10-100 gpm. A vast majority of these domestic wells only penetrate the upper portion of the aquifer.

Tinker Air Force Base is a Superfund site that is located over the south-western portion of the Garber-Wellington Aquifer. In 1942, Tinker AFB was activated and began its long history of repairing airplanes. The building that encompassed most of the work that would later contaminate the ground water, is known as Building 3001. This building was the largest building on the base, most of the repair work done in this building dealt with the chrome plating of airplanes and various airplane parts and equipment.

Site Name: TINKER AIR FORCE(SOLDIER CR/BLDG 300)

EPA ID: OK1571724391

Conditions at proposal (April 10, 1985): Tinker Air Force Base covers 4,277 acres adjacent to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. The base is within the North Canadian River drainage basin and drains into Crutcho and Soldier Creeks. It overlies the Garber-Wellington Formation. This NPL site is bounded by 59th Street, Douglas Boulevard, Building 3001, and the base boundary to the north. Building 3001 is used for aircraft maintenance and jet engine rebuilding. Organic solvents, including TRICHLOROETHYLENE (TCE), TETRACHLOROETHYLENE, and l,2-dichloroethylene, were used for degreasing and aircraft maintenance. In the past, waste oils, solvents, paint sludges, and plating waste generated from maintenance activities were disposed in Industrial Waste Pits Numbers l and 2, located about l mile south of Soldier Creek and Building 300l. Current waste is disposed off-site at landfills permitted under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or the State. The base acquired Interim Status under RCRA Subtitle C when it filed an application for a permit to store hazardous wastes. Tests conducted by a contractor to the Air Force detected TCE in a water supply well located within Building 3001. The Air Force has taken this well out of service. The municipal water system serving 55,400 customers in Midwest City draws water from the contaminated aquifer within 3 miles of the base. The Air Force has detected HEAVY METALS (CHROMIUM, NICKEL, CADMIUM) in Soldier Creek at Douglas Boulevard. The Air Force is participating in the Installation Restoration Program, established in l978. Under this program, the Department of Defense seeks to identify, investigate, and clean up contamination from hazardous materials. The Air Force has completed Phase I (records search) and is currently involved in Phase II (problem confirmation). Status (July 22, 1987): Phase IV (Operations Phase) is underway, and work on Phase II continues. Phase IV includes installation of additional cover at a landfill thought to be contributing contamination to a private well. Within the boundaries of this Federal facility, there are areas subject to the Subtitle C corrective action authorities of RCRA. However, no such areas were included in scoring this specific site. Therefore, this Federal facility site is being placed on the Federal section of the NPL under the NPL/RCRA policy announced on September 8, 1983 (48 FR 40662).

Sources of Contamination:

Discharge to sewer/surface water

Inadvertent spill

Manufacturing process

Storage – drums/containers of waste

Waste tank – below ground

Groundwater and Drinking Water

Were drinking water wells shut down due to contamination? Yes

Population served by the wells now shut down: 101 – 500

Are drinking water wells potentially threatened? Yes

Population served by the threatened wells: 10,001 – 100,000

Aquifer discharges into: Surface water

Population served by water wells in the aquifer: 10,001 – 100,000

The EPA has a IN SITU TREATMENT OF SOIL AND GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATED WITH CHROMIUM TECHNICAL RESOURCE GUIDE, which gives a great deal of technical information about the process of Chromium as it contaminates soil and ground water. Tinker AFB has been leaching Chromium 6 into the soil and more importantly into the Gerber Wellington aquifer since the 1940’s. To get a visual understanding of how the aquifer is contaminated, just look at this image below.

Conceptual geochemical model of zones in a contaminant plume.

Typically, chromium-contaminated sites consist agent) may be desirable to overcome the of three zones: (1) source zone soils where the tailing phenomenon and reduce the overall concentrated waste resides; (2) the time required for remediation. However, the concentrated portion of the groundwater cause of tailing at a given site needs to be plume; and (3) the diluted portion of the determined and quantified. For example, if the groundwater plume (Sabatini et al., tailing is controlled by physical processes such 1997).Figure 2-6 illustrates these three zones as differential travel time along streamlines, or of contamination.

Waste water from Building 3001, was discharged into a pit area near the building and into Soldier Creek. According to the EPA Superfund Record of Decision 1990, the hazardous chemicals have seeped down into the soil around Building 3001 .

PERCHED GROUNDWATER EXISTS BENEATH THE SITE, OVERLYING THE REGIONAL AQUIFER… THE DEPTH FROM THE SURFACE OF THE PERCHED AQUIFER IS APPROXIMATELY 15 FEET. THE THICKNESS OF THE PERCHED AQUIFER IS APPROXIMATELY 23 FEET. THE HIGHEST CONCENTRATIONS OF CONTAMINANTS ARE CONTAINED IN THIS ZONE. CONTAMINATION OCCURRED FROM THE DOWNWARD MOVEMENT OF LIQUIDS CONTAMINATED WITH SOLVENTS, METALS, AND FUEL PRODUCTS.

[…]

CHROMIUM IS PRESENT BENEATH THE SITE WITH CONCENTRATIONS RANGING FROM 80,000 PPB BENEATH THE BUILDING TO LESS THE 10 PPB AT THE EDGE OF THE PLUME. THE CHROMIUM PLUME…COVERS APPROXIMATELY 220 ACRES…

[…]

THE DEPTH FROM THE SURFACE TO THE TOP OF REGIONAL AQUIFER IS APPROXIMATELY 50 FEET. THE THICKNESS IS APPROXIMATELY 30 FEET. TRICHLOROETHYLENE, 1,2-DICHLOROETHYLENE, CHROMIUM, LEAD, AND BARIUM ARE ALL PRESENT IN THE AQUIFER IN CONCENTRATIONS GENERALLY LOWER THAN IN THE PERCHEDÂ ZONE. CONCENTRATIONS OF TETRACHLOROETHYLENE ARE SLIGHTLY HIGHER IN THIS ZONE. TRICHLOROETHYLENE AND CHROMIUM, THE PRIMARY CONTAMINANTS, WERE DETECTED IN MAXIMUMÂ CONCENTRATIONS BENEATH THE BUILDING WITH MAXIMUM CONCENTRATIONS OF 30,000 PPB FOR TRICHLOROETHYLENE AND 1700 PPB FOR CHROMIUM.

[…]

THE DEPTH FROM THE SURFACE TO THE REGIONAL ZONE IS APPROXIMATELY 110 FEET. THE APPROXIMATEÂ THICKNESS IS 65 FEET…CHROMIUM IS ALSO PRESENT WITH A MAXIMUM CONCENTRATION OF 1200 PPB BENEATH THE BUILDING. THE CHROMIUM PLUME COVERS APPROXIMATELY 145 ACRES.

Tinker AFB and Soldier Creek have been placed on the National Priorities List due to the report from the ATSDR about contamination of the areas water and air resources. The following information is gathered from the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.

The public health evaluation of Tinker determined that 12 of the 36 IRP/NPL sites are potential sources and/or areas of contamination that have public health significance (i.e., each of these sites have or may contribute to contamination of environmental media that people come in contact with). These 12 sites are sites 1, 2, 4-9, 14, 15, 30, and 31. The environmental media of concern include private and base supply wells, surface water and sediments in the creeks associated with the base, and air emitted from the IWTP. (Industrial Wastewater Treatment Plant)

Please take a little time to read the entire report from the ATSDR. It is a good way to familiarize yourself with the history and toxic chemicals that have been released into the environment by Tinker Air Force Base. As you read the Community Health Concerns, I remind you that this report is from 1996 and according to the recent draft of the EPA’s Hexavalent Chromium Toxic Review, it seems that many of the concerns the citizens had and health issues that the population experienced are side effects of exposure to Chromium 6.

Following are health concerns the community has raised and ATSDR’s response: Community Health Concerns Evaluation 1. How extensive and harmful is the contamination of the Garber-Wellington aquifer? What about future water use? Contamination of the Garber-Wellington Aquifer has occurred on the installation. However,most of the contamination is confined to the shallow groundwater (< 150 feet) on the installation. The private wells in communities immediately northeast of Tinker are also contaminated. The extent and severity of the contamination, as well as all its potential sources (which may include off-base sources of contamination as well as on-base sources), have not been fully characterized. To ensure no future impact on drinking water sources, Tinker has installed a series of monitoring wells. Tinker has 66 monitoring wells in the northeast quadrant of the base that are sampled on an annual basis. These wells have been sampled annually since 1992. Twelve well clusters (36wells) have been installed under the existing off-base investigation. These new wells are in the vicinity of off-base private wells. Samples from these additional wells will be representative of groundwater contamination in the area. Sampling of these wells began in early 1995. ATSDR recommends that people not use private well water in the Kimsey Addition or the are anear the intersection of Douglas Boulevard and S.E. 29th Street (areas 1 and 2 on Figure 4b). 2. How safe are the drinking water supplies? There are two sources of drinking water in the area. A surface water supply is available through the municipal water lines. This water is tested according to the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act and is safe to drink. The water provided from the municipal source is safe for all purposes,including drinking and bathing. The other drinking water source is groundwater. Community (well serves several homes, i.e.,trailer park well) and private wells are located in neighborhoods near Tinker. Some wells have been found to be contaminated while others are currently free of chemical contamination. However, the potential does exist for contaminants to migrate to those wells located downgradient from the several potential sources of contamination. Therefore, we recommend that the water from private and community wells in the Kimsey Addition, Evergreen Trailer Park,and neighborhoods near the intersection of 29th Street and Douglas Boulevard not be used for any purpose. Groundwater is also used by the base for drinking water (base supply wells). Contamination has been detected in two wells near Building 3001. These wells were immediately taken out of service. The wells that are currently in use are monitored according to the Safe Drinking Water Act. […] 6. Could past exposures to contaminated groundwater cause heart defects or chronic diarrhea in my daughter? Based on the information reviewed by ATSDR, it is not likely that diarrhea or heart defects couldresult from past exposures to contaminated groundwater. Short-term exposures to trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,2-DCA at high concentrations have beenassociated with irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias). For example, the use of TCE as ananesthetic (i.e., concentrated TCE) has been linked with cardiac arrhythmias. However, based onthe data provided to ATSDR, the concentrations of VOCs detected in the wells around Tinker aremuch lower and exposure is not expected to cause cardiac arrhythmias. Although fetuses in the first three months of pregnancy may be especially sensitive to TCE, theconcentrations of TCE detected at Tinker (5.2-13.8 ppb) are much less than the concentrations associated with birth defects. Epidemiologic studies have found an association between pregnant women’s chronic exposure to TCE-contaminated drinking water and congenital heart defects in their children.83 However, these studies were concerned with exposures of 6-239 ppb; thus, the upper limit of exposure in these studies is much higher than the exposure at Tinker. Further, the significance of this finding is questionable because of the possibility that the women were exposed to multiple chemicals, so it is not possible to be sure that the birth defects were no tcaused by one of the other chemicals or by all the chemicals together. Although 1,2-dichloroethane, TCE, and antimony can cause diarrhea, they are not expected to cause it at the concentrations detected in private wells. Thus, based on the information reviewed by ATSDR, it is not likely that diarrhea or heart defects could result from past exposures to contaminated groundwater. […] 11. Can children wading in Soldier Creek develop chloracne? ATSDR considers this unlikely. The concentrations and types of contaminants that have been reported in Soldier Creek have not been associated with chloracne. The Oklahoma City/County Health Department maintains a log of complaints by residents. Complaints about children developing skin irritations/rashes after wading in Soldier Creek are included in the log. Citizens can report complaints and have them included in the log by callingthe Oklahoma City/County Health Department. 12. Is it unsafe for children to play in or around Soldier Creek due to the environmental contamination? ATSDR recommends that children not use the creek as a frequent play area. We do not expecth ealth effects from limited contact with the water or sediments of the creek. However, to be cautious, children should avoid playing in the creek on a regular basis. Tinker is permitted to discharge treated wastewater into the creek and a possibility of an acute exposure exist if the children are in the creek during discharge of a significantly concentrated effluent. These acute exposures are very unlikely. Tinker has a spill control structure immediately downstream of the IWTP that is closed as soon as a release is suspected. 13. Two children developed skin irritations after playing in East Soldier Creek downstream of the IWTP last August (1993). Could chemicals from Tinker have caused their skin irritations? We do not think these skin rashes were caused by contamination in the creek. The IWTP is required to report any discharge above its NPDES permit limit. We reviewed allthese reports from September 1988 through January 1994. No violations were determined to beof public health concern. Three violations of water quality standards occurred during August 1993: 1) on 1 August 93 thechemical oxygen demand was 1248 lbs/day versus the permit limit of 1126 lbs/day; 2) on 3August 93 biochemical oxygen demand was 24 mg/L versus the permit limit of 15 mg/L; and 3)on 24 August 93 the total suspended solids was 56 mg/L versus the permit limit of 50 mg/L. Skin irritations (rashes) would not be expected from exposure to the water in East Soldier following these types of violations. 14. When wastewater from the base overflows into Crutcho and Soldier Creeks, can contaminants that are harmful enter these water systems? No wastewater from a treatment plant is discharged into Crutcho Creek. During rainstorms,surface runoff is collected and discharged into Crutcho Creek. But no adverse health effects areexpected from exposure to contaminants detected in the surface water of the creek. Treated sanitary and industrial wastewaters are discharged into East Soldier Creek. Occasionally, during periods of heavy rainfall the final clarifiers of the wastewater treatment plant will overflow. This would result in the effluent being higher in suspended solids than desired. However, the overflow is further treated by going through a final filtration stage. Data are not available on the quality of the treated water during one of these rain events. 15. Are the fish caught in Soldier Creek safe to eat? Based on the data reviewed by ATSDR, we think the fish caught in Soldier Creek are safe to eat. One environmental concern is that metals can bioconcentrate in fish tissue. The metalscadmium, beryllium, antimony, chromium, and manganese were detected in Soldier Creeksediments at levels above soil comparison values. The metals chromium, manganese, cadmium,and arsenic were detected in Soldier Creek surface waters at levels above drinking watercomparison values. However, the concentrations were relatively low and were not a healthconcern for people who have come into contact with creek water or sediments. Although thesemetals can bioconcentrate in fish, it is unlikely that at the concentrations detected in the creekthey would pose a health concern for fish consumption. 16. Is it possible that contaminants have entered yards adjacent to Soldier Creek and would garden vegetables from those yards be harmful if consumed? Flooding has occurred along Soldier Creek from Reno Street to 23rd Street. This flooding occursduring heavy rain events. However, flooding is infrequent, occurring about once every fiveyears. Therefore, the possibility of contaminant migration from Soldier Creek into adjacent yardsis unlikely. It is possible that contaminants could bioaccumulate if contaminated water from the creek is usedto water yards and gardens. However, levels of contamination detected in Soldier Creek surfacewater are not expected to result in contaminant concentrations in vegetables that would be ofpublic health concern. 17. Our garden vegetables and plants have black, oily particles on them? What could it be and is it safe? Environmental sampling of the fruits and vegetables is necessary to fully answer this question. ATSDR has no information to determine what is on the garden crops. And, without informationabout what is on the fruits and vegetables ATSDR cannot determine if it is safe to eat the crops. ATSDR recommends that the fruits and vegetables be thoroughly washed and peeled, if possible,to remove the substance before preparing the food. […] 19. I live adjacent to the base and experience sinus problems and a tight chest periodically. Could this be caused by air pollution and contaminated water from the IWTP? These health effects should not occur as a result of exposure to water discharged from the IWTP. People could be exposed to contaminants that evaporate from the wastewater while it is held in tanks at the IWTP prior to treatment. However, ATSDR issued a health consultation in March1994 that concluded that current emissions from the IWTP were not a health concern for children or adults in the nearby residential area or for workers at the IWTP. 20. I live adjacent to the base and have experienced dermal reactions such as dry and itchy scalp, rashes, open sores, and skin growths. Could this be caused by air pollution and contaminated water from the IWTP? ATSDR does not expect exposures to air emissions from the IWTP to result in the array of skin disorders described. Phenols were detected in the air in the vicinity of the IWTP during the initial investigations of ambient air at the IWTP. Although the association between skin irritation (dermatitis) and exposure to airborne phenol has not been established, it is suspected that dermatitis is associated with exposure to phenol.109 Phenol was detected at 140 ppb in May of 1993, a concentration above the Oklahoma Maximum Ambient Air Concentration of 100 ppb. After the base reviewed their records, it determined that the peak occurred during a time of unusually high use of phenol in an industrial process at Tinker. The Air Force is monitoring the use of phenol to avoid these short-term peaks. ATSDR’s review of the phenol influent to the IWTP from January 1993 through February 1994showed that May 1993 was the only period when the phenol was unusually elevated durin gnormal industrial activity. Treated wastewater from the IWTP is discharged to East Soldier Creek. During the remedial investigation, no contamination was detected in the surface water or sediments of the creek that was of public health concern. 21. Will children enrolled at the Childhood Development Center be safe from contamination? Yes, the children will be safe. ATSDR issued a health consultation in March 1994 tha tconcluded that current emissions from the IWTP were not a health concern for children at the Child Development Center. A report issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention during the site selection process concluded that exposures to the soils around the Child Development Center were not a health concern.110 The drinking water for the Child Development Center is a mixture of municipal and base water. These water systems are incompliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. 22. Is it safe for employees to work near the hazardous waste sites? Building 3001 is the area of most concern since it houses about 8,000 workers under one roof. Since contaminants are located under the building, direct contact with them is unlikely. Currently, the drinking water workers use is safe because protective measures have been taken by the base. On-base wells that were contaminated are no longer used for drinking water. Current air emissions at the IWTP were determined as no apparent health hazard for workers. On May 31, 1995, air samples were collected at the Chemical Cleaning Subunit in Building3001.111 The samples were analyzed for TCE. TCE was not detected above the detection limit of 0.28 mg/m3. The TLV is 269 mg/m3. ATSDR is only authorized to address worker safety as it relates to the hazardous waste sites on base. Worker safety concerns about normal operations should be referred to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration who regulates worker safety for current work procedures. 23. Is it safe to hunt? Is the wildlife safe to consume? Hunting is not allowed on base. Areas where hunting is allowed are far away from the base an dfrom areas of known contamination. Contamination from Tinker is not expected to impact hunting areas.

My take on these health concerns raised by the population? These people have been exposed to some disturbing toxic chemicals for years and years. Back in 1988, when ATSDR did their first public health assessment of Tinker AFB, and later updated by the 1996 report which I quoted from above, discussions of various health problems tells me that the area’s citizens have been showing some significant health effects from the contamination for quite some time. Â In the most recent report from Superfund Tinker AFB, dated 12/2010, you can see that there are still comments and questions from the public regarding health problems. EPA Update Report on Tinker AFB 12/10 For more information of just how toxic the Air Force thinks Chromium 6 is, read the following reports which detail the hazards of this toxic chemical and the concerns for the health of the employees that work at these locations. They suggest the possible health effects from Hex Chrome and the need to find a better way of managing it. USAF Aircraft Corrosion Control Assessment and Reduction of Chromatic Exposure 2000 USAF Amstrong Labratories Occupational Risk from Chromium – 1997 Hazardous Waste Management at Tinker Air Force Base-Problems Noted, Improvements Needed (GAO.;NSIAD-85-91. duly 19. 1985) And what does the EPA say about all these reports about Hexavalent Chromium and if they consider it a carcinogen?

Chromium-6 in Drinking Water Is chromium-6 a carcinogen? In the draft human health assessment for chromium-6 that was released in September 2010 by EPA for independent expert peer review and public comment, EPA is proposing to classify hexavalent chromium (or chromium-6) as likely to cause cancer in humans when ingested over a lifetime. EPA will make a final determination by the end of 2011.

I think the reason that the EPA is dragging its feet on this is that the main contributor to Hexavalent Chromium contamination is the US Department of Defense. If the EPA declares maximum amounts of Chrome-6 in tap water it will create a huge amount of sites that need to be cleaned up. Many of the sites that are getting by now without the regulatory and clean up orders that the Superfund sites have are still functioning and discharging hazardous waste throughout the world. Environmental Destruction Caused by U.S. Military Bases and the Serious Implications for the Philippines May 14 – 16, 1990 Manila, Philippines

The environmental destruction caused by military bases in the U.S. is a growing concern among environmentalists. The U.S. Department of Defense has admitted the presence of 14,401 toxic hot spots in 1,579 bases in the U.S. which possibly endanger public health and the environment. The U.S. military is a major generator of hazardous waste, producing more than 400,000 tons a year, and many military installations handling hazardous waste are in violation of U.S. environmental laws. […] Tinker AFB adjacent to Oklahoma City is a worldwide repair depot for aircraft, weapons, and engines. The base produces more than 70 types of hazardous wastes including toxins such as cyanide, solvents such as perchloroethylenes and trichloroethanes, corrosives such as chromic acid, and heavy metals including cadmium, lead, and hexavalent chromium. About a million gallons of contaminated wastewater from the base flow through 10 miles of sewer lines to an industrial waste treatment plant each day. A GAO study found that the treatment plant has been in violation of EPA permit standards since the plant was built in the 1960s. To date, three drinking water wells have been closed because of a contamination plume that covers 220 acres inside the base and the upper zones of the aquifer. Past operations at Tinker AFB have created six landfills containing 1,705,000 cubic yards of industrial and sanitary wastes. In addition, there are 12 fuel contaminated sites resulting from leaking underground storage tanks. The installation has 70 miles of sewer drains leading to three watersheds which serve the Garber-Wellington aquifer the primary source of drinking water for some 300,000 people in central Oklahoma.

Can you imagine the amount of money that the US Government would have to pay out in settlements and clean-up of these hazardous waste sites? The consequences of Federal Regulation for Hexavalent Chromium are enormous, and I feel that a lot of pressure is being put on the EPA to down play the Chromium 6 hazards. I will expand on this in my next post on Chromium 6, as well as, the recent statements from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the local media coverage of Norman’s high levels of Chrome 6 in the tap water, the higher rates of cancer that develops in residents of the area and various government officials gloss over the real issues of this dangerous and life threating contaminant.

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