Tuesday, August 10, 2010

El Toro's Unwanted Legacy: Toxic Chemicals

August 6, 2010 - At night, the former base takes on the appearance of a ghost town. With the power to buildings cut off and hundreds of dilapidated buildings still standing, moonlight can play tricks on your mind. Shadows move or seem to move and it doesn’t take too long before normally rational people see things that are not there.

Placed on the National Priority List (EPA Superfund) in 1990 as a result of a trichloroethylene (TCE) plume spreading into Orange County, it was only a matter of time before El Toro was closed. The Navy’s investigation identified 25 contaminated sites on the base, 11 of them were in the most industrialized southwest quadrant where the Marine transport aircraft were serviced in two huge maintenance hangars.

In the 1960s, the hangars were used to maintain the aircraft, primarily C-130s, R4Ds (or C-54s), and several R5Ds (C-47s or Dakotas). The R5Ds and R4Ds were WWII aircraft while the C-130s were the state-of-art transport aircraft in the 1960s. All of these multi-engine transports used an extensive amount of TCE as a degreaser. At one time, El Toro ran a “kind of drying cleaning like operation for aircraft parts.” using 55 gallon drums of TCE hoisted by crane and dumped into a heated vat. Parts were dipped into the vat and just like in your neighborhood cleaners, out came the formerly greased parts, now pristine and ready for use.


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