Over the years, veterans have been exposed to toxic chemicals, especially after the Agent Orange episode in the Vietnam war. In the past, it was a common practice to dump industrial solvents at base camps across the United States without thinking of the repercussions of the action. The now closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County is one of the few incidents that made the headlines.
Paul Ehline Ride and our VA disabilities and benefits attorneys are advocates of veteran rights, helping them recover VA disability benefits for their injuries and illnesses resulting from their time in service.
You may qualify for compensation if you’re suffering an illness with symptoms similar to deadly chemicals exposure. Contact us now for free formal legal advice on your case.
Spanning 4,682 acres, the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was home to Marine Corps Aviation on the west coast. It had four massive runways, all over 8.000 feet in length, and was a master jet station capable of accommodating the largest aircraft in the US Air Force arsenal.
Initially surrounded by agricultural land, residential and commercial development slowly started to take shape during the 1980s and early 1990s. However, because of the Air Force activities and the passing jets, few desired to move to the region, causing new neighborhoods to struggle.
In 1993, plans to close down El Toro Marine Base started to surface, and in 1999 the military seized all activities at the base, transferring it to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
By 1944, EL Toro was officially the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the west coast, and the US government further approved funds to double the size and operations at the military base.
From the 1950s onwards, expansion continued as it became the primary base for the fighter squadron. The Irvine base held a massive significance for the US Air Force, employing, directly and indirectly, thousands of American citizens.
However, with so many officers stationed at the base and the increase in military activities, it became a dumping ground for lethal chemicals that eventually seeped into the groundwater, extending 3 miles west of the station.
According to published US Navy documents, there were high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreaser for planes, and other contaminations in the groundwater system and the soil.
Employees relied on well water for the earlier years at the base. The wells were reportedly shut down in 1969, and the US government struck a deal with the Irvine Ranch water district to provide drinking water for the base and its occupants.
When the Irvine base closed abruptly in 1999, there was a veil of secrecy that shrouded the facts behind the closure. It wasn’t until 2009 that the media started covering the subject of TCE contamination at El Toro.
The Orange County Register began exposing the allegations about the base to the public after the city and land developers deceived people about the quality of the land.
The PFAS concentration found within the base was approximately 3,826 parts per trillion, significantly exceeding the legal limit of 70 parts per trillion set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
One of the primary contaminants found at the base was Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), common chemicals in small amounts in everyday household goods, such as fast food containers, popcorn bags, cleaning products, and more. However, the PFAS were from an aqueous film-forming foam fire (AFFF) suppressant used at the base to extinguish jet fuel fires.
The major problem with using AFFF is that it contains large amounts of PFAS, which is harmful to the environment. PFAS do not break down easily and remain in the environment forever.
To make matters worse, many other contaminants found in the highest concentration could potentially cause serious health problems. Some contaminants found in groundwater and soil included:
The existence of so many chemicals in the groundwater and soil that are already known to cause multiple cancers aggravated the toxicity levels at El Toro base, affecting all military members until 1999.
If you were a veteran at the El Toro base suffering from illnesses, your deteriorating health could be due to exposure to deadly chemicals.
According to studies, several medical problems and health conditions can arise due to exposure to PFAS and other hazardous substances present at the El Toro base. Some of these conditions include:
If you believe that your medical condition could be related to your time spent at the El Toro base, you need our qualified VA disability benefits and compensation attorneys on your side to help you file for a toxic exposure claim.
The US Environmental Protection Agency placed EL Toro on the superfund site list in 1990 after realizing the damage caused. The superfund site is a location recognized by EPA as polluted, requiring a long-term cleanup response.
Upon assessment, the Environmental Protection Agency disclosed 25 contaminated areas, including four landfills filled with hazardous waste. The agency also made a plan consisting of several long-term remedial phases.
The plan focused on cleaning groundwater, identifying sources of contamination, cleaning volatile organic compound contamination present in the soil, and cleaning the wastewater tanks and lines.
According to EPA, more than 1,900 acres of old Irvine base have been thoroughly cleaned up. Although the environmental cleanup is complete, the toxic legacy left behind affects thousands of Americans today.
According to some El Toro veterans, there are several US Marines sick and dying from illnesses as a result of toxic exposure while residing at the base. In an interview with online local news, a retired El Toro marine spoke about how not only the marines suffered from toxic exposure but also other residents, including the teachers and school children. The marine stated that many teachers died of cancer at a very young age, while the children have leukemia.
John Uldrich, another former Marine, recalled his time at the base. He stated that the teachers had to come to the school earlier to wipe the soot on the tables and chairs.
Ray, a former marine working at the heavily contaminated Hangar in El Toro (later discovered to be ground zero), and others were constantly exposed to harmful substances, but they never knew about the contamination.
They were not wearing protective gear, and there was a lack of concern when handling chemicals on the base. Most of Ray’s friends died of illnesses, and Ray also lost his life to Multiple System Atrophy, a rare neuromuscular disease, in 2011.
As mentioned earlier, agricultural lands surrounded the base for quite some time. There is a possibility that contaminated groundwater made its way into the crops and food, affecting the Californian residents and others consuming the contaminated food. The impacts of the deadly chemicals could be more far-reaching than ever imagined.
On January 13, 2009, a resident of the Woodbridge community testified to the Irvine city council stating multiple stories of healthy residents suddenly contracting all the diseases associated with PFAS and dying in their mid-30s.
One Woodbridge resident sent a letter to a local news channel about her dire situation. Wishing to remain un-named, the woman stated that she heard about the water and air contamination in the region and decided to move homes. However, her landlord would not terminate the lease as there is no hard evidence even after showing them news articles about the contamination.
Dr. Phillip Leveque, a forensic toxicologist, testified in a 1974 court case that became the first successful lawsuit about TCE-related death. He gave his opinion on the El Toro situation, stating it as dangerous with immeasurable consequences.
Tim King, a former US marine, covers various lawsuits about diseases resulting from contaminated military bases at Salem News. He was one of the few who actively covered the Camp Lejeune incident and lawsuits arising from it.
Groundwater contamination remains a massive threat to service members. Without proper disposal of waste chemicals, these toxins can break down and enter the drinking water supply, slowly poisoning the residents reliant on that water.
Besides contaminated water, polluted air is also a serious concern as most military bases have burn pits, like the ones found in Camp Lejeune. Veterans have rights, and we must ensure they live their lives to the fullest after dedicating a considerable chunk of their lives to protecting American citizens.
If you are a military member, veteran, or a family member of one suffering from medical conditions due to toxic exposure while staying at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, contact us at (310) 622-8719 for a free consultation, as you may qualify for compensation.
At Paul Ehline Ride, our legal team advocates for veterans, military members, and their family members, helping them recover compensation for the illnesses contracted during their time at military bases. We thank you for your service to this country and are ready to start the legal process on your behalf.
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