At the Navy's Defense Fuel Support Facility, located on the Point Loma Naval Base, for roughly four years, beginning in 1999, at least half-a-million gallons (the Navy estimates it could be as much as 1.5 million gallons) of jet fuel leaked into the moist soil beneath three of the facility's 51 storage tanks. The leaks started after the weight of the fuel popped the rivets holding together the bottoms of the 70-year-old tanks, Navy Capt. Mark Patton told Point Loma residents gathered at a community forum Monday night.
Patton, who became base commander in September, has had the difficult task of reassuring residents that the Navy has the situation under control. The suspect tanks have been drained and others still in use have been reinforced. A number of wells were dug into the ground to collect the fuel which, Patton said, was moving at a pace of three inches a day.
The city, county and state—as well as the U.S. Department of Defense—have known about the fuel leak since 2000. Residents, however, were informed only in February, after tank inspectors realized the fuel leak had spread north, creeping toward the edge of Navy property in the direction of the historic, affluent neighborhood of La Playa. Indeed, an informational fact sheet the Navy compiled last year explaining hazardous-waste cleanup activities on the base makes no mention of the fuel spill.
Rudy Van Burg, a toxicologist hired by the Navy to assess health risks, told residents that, so far, he's found “no significant risk” associated with the fuel spill, despite expressed concerns about a spate of cancer diagnoses in the area. Sensors that have been set up to detect vapors from the spill show toxicity “no more than [the air] in downtown L.A.,” he said.