This time around, the TCE-laced groundwater flowing under Moffett and into adjacent Mountain View neighborhoods could potentially harm NASA personnel and others who work in the some 60 affected buildings at the base. The Environmental Protection Agency's San Francisco office says it is the Navy's job to make sure that toxic vapors from the underground plumes of TCE (trichloroethylene) do not leak into the basements of these buildings and cause potential harm to the occupants.
But like it has done before, the Navy is now simply trying to dodge responsibility for the toxic threat even though it clearly was in charge when the plume was created, long before NASA took control of Moffett. In those days, the toxic material was dumped out the back door of many Moffett buildings, where the chemical was used as a solvent to clean aircraft, among other things. Early computer companies used it in manufacturing on the other side of the plume across Highway 101.
But now, there is a concerted effort led by the EPA to clean up the base and make it safe for current workers and future tenants. The Superfund site created at Moffett is one of the largest in the country and while the Navy has already spent millions of dollars on the project, much is left to do. The Navy should give up any idea that it can shirk its responsibility at Moffett and abide by the directives from the EPA, which has the final say in overseeing the clean-up.
In recent communications with the EPA, the Navy claims that NASA should deal with the vapors that come up through the ground and into the buildings at Moffett. The EPA has drawn up a list of 34 buildings that are affected, including one that is known to have high levels of fumes and needs mitigation. The other 33 should to be tested, according to the EPA.
If an unacceptable volume of fumes is found to be seeping into the buildings, the EPA says the Navy will need to retrofit them with a ventilation system or vapor barrier similar to what has been installed in some homes in the Whisman Station neighborhood.
This is important work and if not completed soon could impact the safety of Moffett employees who work in these buildings. The Navy should not be permitted to arbitrarily opt out of cleaning up the mess it left behind at Moffett Field. The Navy was the occupying agency when the TCE was spilled, and now must accept responsibility to clean it up.
An EPA spokesman told the Voice last week that the Navy ultimately will lose its effort to hand off this job to NASA. He said the EPA has the final say, and if there is no resolution locally the problem eventually will go to top EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in Washington. If that is what it takes to get the Navy to recognize its duty at Moffett, we support Ms. Jackson and the EPA 100 percent. NASA has already taken on enough of the Navy's problems, in particular the restoration of Hangar One. It has no money left to cover the Navy's obligation to protect workers from toxic vapors coming from chemicals released under Navy oversight years ago.