24 Bases with reported TCE water contamination
(Source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)

El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (decommissioned)

Irvine, CA

While MCAS El Toro is a separate issue from Camp Lejeune, TFTPTF felt that it was important to let our membership know about the situation. I hope that when you speak about Camp Lejeune that you also mention and think about El Toro. Here is a synopsis from Robert J. O’Dowd with
MCAS El Toro

Marines take great pride "in taking care of their own." Marine and Navy veterans who were stationed at former MCAS El Toro are at risk for exposure to toxic chemicals as a result of the contamination of the soil and groundwater. Very few know of their exposure.

Marines have been exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), suffered serious health consequences, and have no idea of what hit them.

A number of Marines report serious illnesses linked to toxic exposure. Some of the emails are posted at Others have asked to withhold their names. Neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps made any attempts to notify El Toro veterans.

MCAS El Toro was commissioned in 1943 and for many years the base obtained drinking water from fresh water wells on station. EPA in 1997 confirmed that the aquifers are "not currently a source of municipal water." After 56 years, El Toro was officially closed in July 1999, the 3rd MAW transferred to Miramar, and thousands of acres sold at a public auction to Lennar Corp. for $650 million.

A TCE plume was discovered off base in 1985. MWSG-37 was ground zero for the TCE plume, spreading miles into Orange County. In 1997 EPA reported that the MWSG-37 area was the source of the toxic plume. EPA found that: "approximately 1,500 pounds of TCE are estimated to be present in soil gas; an additional 4,000 pounds of TCE would be present in the soil moisture. The mass of TCE in groundwater beneath Site 24 is estimated to be approximately 8,000 pounds."

EPA traced the "hot spot" to MWSG-37's maintenance hangars: "the primary VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) source is present beneath Buildings 296 and 297, extending to the south with decreasing concentrations to the southern Station boundary. Several smaller source areas exist in the soil beneath Site 24, including a PCE soil gas plume located west of Building 297. The VOC concentrations in soil gas generally increase with depth, and the highest concentrations occur near the water table. VOCs in the area of Buildings 296 and 297 extend to groundwater directly beneath those buildings." How much TCE/PCE was used at El Toro? It's anybody's guess. El Toro kept no TCE usage records.

Six of the base wells were in the path of the TCE plume. With the possible exception of one well (#4, 1947), the actual dates the wells were abandoned are unknown. Well water may have been used for years after the purchase of municipal water for swimming pools, irrigation, fire service, and washing of aircraft and vehicles. Contaminated well water would have exposed Marines, dependents, and civilian workers to these carcinogens.

The Navy purchased municipal water for El Toro and the Santa Ana Air Facility as early as 1951. There’s no explanation for the reasons for the purchase, but the high salt content (total dissolved solids) in the groundwater may have corroded the wells. The base wells were constructed in 1942 so something had to be seriously wrong with the wells for the Navy to purchase municipal water. The early purchase was not enough to replace the maximum daily output from the base wells. In late 1969, the Navy entered into another contract which exceeded the maximum output from the base wells.

The 1969 contract required the contractor to supply water to El Toro from the Santa Ana Air Facility’s wells in the event of disruption in municipal water services. El Toro’s wells were obviously off-limits.

The Navy contends that corrosion was not a factor in the decision to purchase municipal water for El Toro despite the high levels of TDS ("salts") in the shallow aquifer (> 1,000 mg/ug). The only thing that is certain is that the Navy did not purchase municipal water without cause, especially when there was good quality water in the principal aquifer under the base.

All of El Toro’s wells are now destroyed. The consulting engineers’ well destruction reports show extensive well casing corrosion, at least one well screen in the contaminated shallow aquifer, broken discharge pipes, and one well failure (#4).

The risk of serious illness for those who worked in MWSG-37 in or near the maintenance hangars was high because of exposure to toxic vapors from open containers and from vapor intrusion. Others on the base were at some risk for exposure from vapor intrusion from the contaminated soil and groundwater. If contaminated well water was used in swimming pools and for irrigation, the risk for exposure to these carcinogens through dermal contact is evident. In the words of one toxicologist El Toro “was a toxic waste dump.” At least one national law firm has taken an interest in injuries from toxic exposure at El Toro.

Tim King, reporter for Salem-News (, continues his series of investigative reports/videos on El Toro. Tim King’s reports raise more questions about the base's contamination, the impact on the local community and the significant amount of money changing hands in the sale of the base to real estate interests.

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