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Kirtland jet fuel spill plume appears to bypass wells for Albuquerque drinking water

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — A fuel spill that officials worried might pollute Albuquerque drinking water seems to be bypassing the city's wells, according to experts.

Leaders of the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill cleanup team say the plume appears to be headed north rather than northeast, the Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1HLJXwg ).

The direction means the fuel will likely bypass two of three nearby wells. It is unclear whether it will pollute the third.

"It looked before like it was going directly to Kirtland (well) 3," Dennis McQuillan, a geologist with the New Mexico Environment Department, said this weekend. "But it appears to be going more north than northeast."

The fuel leak, which is believed to have been seeping into the ground for decades, was first detected in 1999. Estimates of the amount of fuel spilled range from 6 million to 24 million gallons. The greatest concern has been that the spill would contaminate drinking water wells in the Southeast Heights.

McQuillan and other officials involved in the effort to define the extent of the contamination and get rid of it have said all along that there is no imminent danger to the drinking water supply because the plume has been just inching along.

Even so, the fact that all six monitoring wells bracketing Louisiana Boulevard between Gibson and Anderson Street to the north were clean, meaning they found no sign of contamination, suggests the plume is not moving toward Louisiana and the drinking water wells and may be smaller than previously believed.

"Before, we thought the drinking wells were more at threat," said Adria Bodour, the Air Force's lead scientist on the cleanup. "This is telling us they are not. This gives us bookends for where the plume is migrating. It helps me map out where I can put extraction wells. It helps me make good decisions."

Extraction wells will pull out groundwater contaminated by ethylene dibromide, an aviation gasoline additive, and feed the tainted water into pipes that send it to an activated carbon-filter cleaning system on the Air Force base. The rig for drilling the first extraction well went up this past week in the west parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church.

McQuillan and Bodour talked about the data from the Louisiana monitoring wells Saturday during a six-hour Kirtland Air Force Base field trip attended by more than 100 members of the public and experts in geology, hydrology, groundwater chemistry, microbiology and other disciplines.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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