Testing begins on SLO Airport property for source of chemical contamination in groundwater

Jul 27, 2016

Testing of groundwater and soil samples is underway at the San Luis Obispo Airport, as an independent testing company works to find the source of chemical contamination showing up in the well water of neighboring homes.

​The testing sites this week are located on the southern edge of the airport, where scientists are looking for traces of trichloroethylene (TCE). It’s a solvent used to clean machinery and was widely used at places, like airports, decades ago. San Luis Obispo County, which owns the airport, is under orders from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to do this testing.

Guy Savage is the County’s Assistant Administrative Officer, and said Tuesday that the County doesn't believe the source will be found there. 

“From everything we’ve seen thus far, we’ve not seen any indication that the contamination is coming from on airport property, so that’s still our position," Savage said. "Have we found some things we want to look at, yeah, absolutely, that’s why we did some last minute adjustments to some of the soil-gas testing were going to do, but at this point, there’s nothing to indicate, to us, the contamination is coming from airport property.”

Attorney John Fiske is with Eco Lawyers in San Diego and represents the dozens of families affected by the problem. He sees the situation quite differently.

“With the information that I have, and my experts have available to us, we disagree with the county, and we agree with the Water Board, which is why the Water Board is asking the county to go through these efforts on the County Airport Property," said Fiske.

The County says its main goal is to make sure the public is safe from these chemicals.

“And until we can definitively prove to ourselves that the airport property is not the source of the contamination we’re going to keep testing, it’s that important to us,” said Savage. 

Much of that testing can be easily seen from a public airport viewing area on Buckley Road. Savage said this is adequate for those interested in observing the process. John Fiske again disagrees, and told KCBX News that the county denied their request to have a single, qualified observer on site. He said his team is specifically upset about a testing area that’s not within public view.

“That is, in our opinion, one of the most important locations to be observing on what the county is doing and how they’re doing it,” Fiske said.

The County said the Water Board will be there to act as an observer, making sure the testing is done properly, but Fiske said his clients want somebody who directly represents them.

“You know, the folks at the Water Board are doing everything that they can, from what we can tell, however, they don’t live on these properties that are being affected by the groundwater contamination," said Fiske. "They are not drinking the water.”

Savage said he’s confident the safeguards in place will be adequate.

"We have an independent third party firm doing the testing, they're being sent off to a certified third party lab,” said Savage. "We don't have any connection to those guys directly."

Savage told KCBX that the Water Board will be able to review the results independent of the County, and that if Fiske and his law firm are not happy with the results, and they move forward with their lawsuit, they'll have an opportunity through the discovery process to come on site to do their own testing.

Final test results are expected this fall. If those results indicate the airport is the TCE source, Savage said the odds that it came from a county employee are very small and that it would have likely come from a current or prior tenant.