FAQ: Data Gap Well, KAFB Fuel Spill
Q. What is the Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) Bulk Fuels Facility contamination site?
A. A jet fuel leak was discovered at KAFB in 1999 and is suspected to have gone undetected for decades. The jet fuel that had seeped into the ground and the aquifer below contains toxic contaminants, making the spill’s proximity to drinking water supply wells a concern.
Q. What is ethylene dibromide (EDB) and benzene? Why are we monitoring them?
A. EDB and benzene are chemical components of jet fuel, and are identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as toxic contaminants. EDB and benzene can cause both short- and long-term health effects when people are exposed for relatively short periods of time. To reflect the risk to human health for both benzene and EDB, the EPA has defined a Maximum Contaminant Limit Goal of zero. Therefore, it is critical that we monitor where the contaminants are in the aquifer, so that the plume does not threaten our drinking water supply wells.
Q. Is the contamination site regulated?
A. The fuel leak cleanup project is regulated by New Mexico Environment Department under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which specifies a step-by-step Corrective Action Process for remediation of the spill by the Air Force (see graphic on this Water Authority webpage).
For every contaminant, the EPA distinguishes between the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG), which considers only public health risks and exposures, and the maximum contaminant level (MCL), the enforceable standard which defers to the practical “limits of detection and treatment technology effectiveness.” The MCLG for both EDB and benzene is zero, meaning there is no dose of these chemicals that is considered safe.
Q. How does the contamination affect my drinking water?
A. No Water Authority wells have yet been affected by the contamination. The Water Authority maintains that no amount of EDB in our water supply wells is acceptable, which is why the Water Authority is being proactive in monitoring the plume and continuing technical review and oversight of the Air Force’s clean-up efforts.
Q. How is the Air Force cleaning up the contamination?
A. Historically, the Air Force has operated multiple remediation systems at the site to treat both groundwater contamination and fuel that remains underground. These remediation systems, which are no longer active, have included soil vapor extraction, bioventing, and soil removal.
Currently, the only ongoing remediation at the site is a system known as “pump and treat,” which extracts contaminated water from the aquifer, applies treatments to remove some of the contamination, and then re-injects the treated water back into the aquifer. The Air Force is still working toward selecting a final remedy.
Q. Why is the Water Authority drilling this new monitoring well?
A. In 2018, the Water Authority identified a data gap, or blind spot, in the network of groundwater monitoring wells looking for EDB migration toward our well fields to the north/northeast of the spill site (particularly at depth, well below the top of the water table). Because the Air Force has declined to install a monitoring well capable of filling this data gap, the Water Authority sought and received state capital outlay funds to do so on its own.
Q. What happens if EDB is detected in the groundwater at this well site?
A. The Water Authority is currently identifying where a second “data gap” well could be installed should EDB be detected in this new well near Kathryn Avenue. The Water Authority intends to submit a funding request to the New Mexico State Legislature in advance of the 2022 session to request funding for this second well should we need it.
Q. Are there similar wells in town that monitor for EDB in the groundwater?
A. As of July 2021, there are 172 wells in the Kirtland Air Force Base Bulk Fuels Facility project site that monitor groundwater contamination from the jet fuel leak. The Water Authority monitors our nearby wells on a monthly basis for all fuel-related compounds. No Water Authority wells have yet been impacted by the jet fuel spill. The Water Authority is working with other agencies to ensure the safety of the drinking water supply.
Q. Where is the location of the new well?
A. The new monitoring well is going to be placed south of Kathryn Avenue on Indiana Street. The exact location for the well was determined based on groundwater data and the location of utilities in the street. This portion of roadway will be closed for the duration of the project with no parking in the immediate area.
Q. How is a monitoring well put in the ground?
A. This type of well is placed by using a large, sonic drill to dig down to the aquifer underground. We will need to drill down to about 600 to 700 feet below the surface.
Q. Will the drilling affect my water and sewer service?
A. No. It is not anticipated that the drilling will disturb water or sewer lines.
Q. If the road is closed, will I still be able to get home?
A. Residents will always have FULL ACCESS to their homes during the project. Residents located along the work zone will be permitted access, although there may be some detours.
Q. When will drilling begin?
A. It is estimated that the well drilling will begin in December 2021 or January 2022. Once the project begins, it will take about 18 days to reach the needed depth. Drilling will only occur Monday – Friday, 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Security will be on site for 24 hours during the weekend and non-working hours during the week.
Q. Is the drill going to be loud?
A. Yes. There will be a consistent vibration-type noise as the drill moves through earth and rock. Noise-reducing walls will be placed around the drilling site to reduce noise for nearby residents and businesses. Drilling will take place only during business hours, in compliance with a City of Albuquerque noise permit.
Q. Will there be vibrations?
A. Yes, there will be some, but not enough to affect any structures in the area.
Q. How can I keep my animals calm during the drilling?
A. According to Fetch by WebMD, there are several things that you can do if your dog or cat is exhibiting signs of stress or anxiety. They say to:
- Put your animal in the spot where they usually go to rest and relax, such as a kennel or spot in a bedroom or living room. If you’re using a kennel or crate, Fetch suggests leaving the door open to prevent your animal from hurting itself by trying to get out.
- Distract your pet with a game, television noise, or use a white noise machine to drown out the anxiety-causing sounds.
- Try using a “hug” vest or noise-cancelling ear muffs specially designed for your pet.
Q. What will the well look like?
A. Once complete, the well will look like a simple manhole cover in the street. It will not cause traffic disruptions or noise (see picture of restored drilling site at right).
Q. How often is the well going to be monitored after it is installed?
A. The frequency of sampling has not yet been determined. It will be regularly monitored for water depth and any concentrations of fuel-related contaminants. There will be an increased frequency of sampling if EDB is found to be present.
Q. Who can I contact with questions about the project?
A. The following Water Authority employees are available to answer further questions from the public:
Environmental Manager (project lead)