ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Air Force cleanup system used for sucking jet fuel contamination from Albuquerque groundwater has been out of service for most of the month, according to a new report.
Documents show the system at Kirtland Air Force Base shut down May 31 after its control system malfunctioned, the Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday.
Officials said the Air Force initially hoped the machine would only be down for 72 hours, but it took about two weeks to repair.
Details were outlined in an Air Force report to the New Mexico Environment Department.
Officials said the machine was running intermittently on June 12. Base civil engineer Brent Wilson told the newspaper that other problems were plaguing the system as workers try to fix it.
The machine acts like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking fuel vapors that sit in the soil beneath Kirtland’s aviation fuel facility, where millions of gallons of fuel spilled from a leaky underground pipe over a period of decades.
Kirtland Air Force Base discovered a spill from a leaking underground fuel line in 1999. Officials believe fuel had been leaking for decades. In 2007, they discovered that it had reached groundwater and was moving beneath a southeast Albuquerque neighborhood toward municipal drinking water wells.
The nearest Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority drinking water well is less than a mile from the closest known area of groundwater contamination. The well, and a monitoring well drilled as a “sentry” between the drinking water and the fuel plume, have shown no contamination. But the Air Force acknowledged in an April report that groundwater contamination is still spreading.
While it cannot remove contamination that has already spread through the groundwater, the soil vapor extraction unit is intended to prevent additional fuel trapped in a soil layer above the groundwater from spreading through the water and making the problem worse.
The system that failed controls the mixture of fuel vapor injected into the machine’s furnace, where contaminants are burned, Wilson said. The control system had been somewhat problematic since the system was turned on in January, Wilson said, and finally had to be replaced.