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Questions linger over Kelly AFB contamination even after property changes hands

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Toxic Triangle resident Robert Alvarado with a map of the contaminated groundwater plume.


And just look to the Lower Leon Creek to see how Kelly’s toxic legacy is still being felt. Runoff from the base, which flushes into the nearby creek, continues to worry Subra and some in the neighborhood. While a recent U.S. Geological Survey study shows elevated levels of a variety of toxins in virtually all of Bexar County’s watersheds, Leon’s the worst, with hazardous levels of the suspected carcinogen DDT, an herbicide used extensively in the Vietnam War and stored at Kelly, along with harmful concentrations of chromium and cadmium.

Once TCEQ and the EPA deems the cleanup has been finished, the Air Force will forever wash its hands of the Toxic Triangle, able to walk away from its environmental liability. For Subra, she’s not sure a cause and effect will ever be definitively proven, even though, according to her, the chemicals dumped at Kelly wholly match illnesses shown in the neighborhood.

“It’s very difficult to do cause and effect, even in a legal setting, in court,” she said. “But the health impacts match. What they have is what’s associated with the chemicals they’ve all been exposed to.” •

 

Kelly Timeline

1917
Kelly Field opens as a military pilot training base.

 

1948
With the creation of the U.S. Air Force, field is renamed to Kelly AFB.

 

1971-1974
Drums of herbicide used in Southeast Asia, including the chemical components of Agent Orange, were stored at Kelly, military officials later confirm.

 

1982
Air Force begins to investigate nature and extent of contamination on and around the base.

 

1994
Robert Alvarado and other community members found Committee for Environmental Justice Action (CEJA), organizing protests, marches, and health surveys of the community.

 

1994
Kelly Restoration Advisory Board formed as a bridge between community, the military, and local, state, and federal regulatory agencies.

 

1995
Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) votes to close Kelly.

 

1999
Southwest Workers Union, CEJA, and Texas chapter of the Sierra Club file petition for federal Superfund designation for Kelly AFB. Their petition fails.

 

1999
About 400 residents sue the federal government, claiming groundwater contamination amounted to the “taking of private property without just compensation.” Health complaints are not mentioned.

 

2001
Kelly AFB closes. Transition of land to Port San Antonio begins.

 

Oct, 2010
Port San Antonio receives last 400 acres of Kelly, concluding any Air Force ownership.

 

Aug, 2010
U.S. government settles 1999 lawsuit for $1 million — about $1,300 per family, after the lawyers are paid.

 

Sept, 2011
Air Force contract funding San Antonio’s health department to study Kelly contamination ends.

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