History of MCAS(H) Tustin Chemical Exposure

Established in 1942, the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin is a former US Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County, California. The US Marine community recognizes this place as the location from which it would launch blimp operations to support the US Navy, while fighting during World War II. After the war, the blimps returned to the regular duty business at their home base operation. Ultimately, it became a helicopter air station, serving the west coast and often making helicopter runs to El Toro and Camp Pendleton, CA.

Declared a Toxic Superfund Site?

However, in 1985, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), after much scientific analysis was undertaken, the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin was declared a “Superfund” site. The EPA declared their high contaminants in the groundwater and the soil. Sadly many sailors and Marines who got sick from solvents, grease, and other confirmed detective toxins in contaminated water. Most of these heroes were denied benefits by the VA. Many approved benefits deny within months of approval due to all the bureaucratic red tape and snail pace investigation. We do know that watershed also released these toxins into the water supply of the nearby community.

Are Tustin Vets Granted PACT ACT Protections?

Not unless they also served at Camp Lejeune and fall within the PACT protective scheme otherwise. To this day, these servicemembers are denied protections under the PACT ACT. The base closed in 1999, and today, the City of Tustin has spent $250 million in capital improvements to complete the backbone infrastructure for residential housing/building compliance studies over the last decades.

Let’s go over the history of MCAS(H) Tustin chemical exposure and how West Coast veterans are still suffering from service-related illnesses based on testing and analysis.

Former Marine Corps Air Station Tustin: Strategic Location for Patrolling

When you pass through the Marine Corps Air Station (Helicopter) Tustin, you will see two giant decommissioned blimps reminding you of the height of US innovation and their road to military success. However, many do not know the history behind the blimps or why the Tustin base became the center of US helicopter operations and training for the Vietnam War.

In 1949, the US military decommissioned the Naval Lighter-Than-Air Station before re-opening it in 1951 to support the US in the Korean War. The Marine Corps Tustin base became the first US facility made for the sole purpose of helicopter operations.

During the Vietnam War, Tustin became a training ground for US troops, crew chiefs, aircraft pilots, gunners, and other military personnel destined for Vietnam. By the 1970s, the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin provided support services to the infantry stationed at Pendleton base. The US Marines also provided helo-lift support to the US aircraft wing unit stationed at Marine Corps base El Toro.

For many years, the US military leased more than 500 acres surrounding the Tustin ranch road base for agricultural purposes. In the early 1980s, residential and commercial areas sprung up opposite the station. However, after reports of groundwater contamination, the military base closed in 1999.

Under the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) of 1990, the US moved all its assets, including personnel, equipment, and support from MCAS El Toro and MCAS Tustin, to other locations in Southern California, such as NAS Miramar.

PFAS at Former MCAS Tustin and Its Health Effects

One of the primary contaminants found by EPA at the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin was PFAS, polyfluoroalkyl substances. These are man-made chemicals that have resistance properties against water, oil, heat, stains, and more. PFAS are usually found in household and industrial products. Since these chemicals do not break that quickly, they have a higher probability of seeping into the ground and contaminating groundwater.

According to the Federal government, the PFAS used at bases is in the form of firefighting aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). These are often used in fire training exercises, responses to fuel fire, hangar fire suppression systems, and other activities.

Besides AFFF, burning chemicals, jet fuel, and other toxins released other hazardous particles into the environment.

An environmental assessment of the MCAS Tustin base by the EPA revealed that the soil and water had large concentrations exceeding remedial goals of Dichloroethene, Trichloroethene (TCE), 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, Carve-Out (CO)-2, and other compounds resulting in contaminated groundwater plumes.

The Department of Navy, under the guidance of EPA and other organizations, conducted on-site investigations to understand the potential impacts on the residents of Tustin and started remediation efforts at the Tustin base. The Environmental Protection Agency identified 12 sites for cleanup. Four areas are currently closed, while eight are still in the study phase.

Is PFAS Unique to MCAS Tustin?

MCAS Tustin is one of many bases that became a superfund site, polluted locations in the United States requiring a long-term response to cleaning up the contamination. According to Pentagon documents, around 385 US military bases have PFAS contamination. In a recent report, the Department of Defense mentioned 12 bases with dangerous levels of toxic PFAS in groundwater.

Battling Department of Veterans Affairs for Benefits

When in service, officers give their lives to protect their country, but it is a real shame that they have to battle the Department of VA for benefits while on their last leg.

Ray Alkofer spent three years, from 1951 to 1953, stationed at El Toro, where he and thousands of service members were seriously exposed to many dangerous chemicals. Ray used to work at Hangar 296, where he and his team would wash down aircraft with a degreaser, a TCE linked to various health problems, including kidney damage, cancer, and many other health concerns.

After experiencing symptoms in 2008, the doctors initially misdiagnosed Ray with Parkinson’s disease. While Ray sought treatment for his deteriorating health, his wife, Laura Alkofer, fought with the VA for benefits to pay for Ray’s medical treatment.

In 2011, Ray was officially diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disease that left him crippled in a wheelchair requiring a respirator to assist in breathing during his last few months. Laura fought the VA for more than two years before receiving a penny in benefits for her dying husband. The VA initially refused to process her claims before reconsidering and offering her full benefits after Ray lost both his feet. Six months after the VA released the benefits, Ray died.

Laura was the first person to receive disability benefits related to TCE exposure. Since the death of Ray, Laura became a VA benefit advocate encouraging vets to apply for compensation.

Another retired Marine, Major William Mimiaga, also suffered from a litany of health ailments such as breast cancer, lung cancer, heart failure, and more due to TCE exposure. His VA disability got declined five times before he received a 70% disability until 2019, when the VA decided to process full disability.

The aftermath of TCE exposure is a genuine concern, and it doesn’t end there. Bill Alkofer, Ray’s son, suffers from many medical illnesses, including a variant of ALS that does not have any medical treatment. The doctors told him that he only had five years to live. Bill’s sister suffers from heart valve deficiencies.

Birth Defects are Eerily Similar To Agent Orange Exposure?

Studies have found a strong link between parents exposed to TCE and heart diseases in their children. Bill and his sister may never know whether their illness was hereditary or from exposure to TCE. Bill, his sister, and Mimiaga are just a few examples of the thousands of service members currently suffering from the legacy left behind by MCAS Tustin, El Toro, and others.

It’s hard to come to grips that a Marine or any other military officer dedicates their life to the service only to find that the VA lacks empathy. With so many reports and studies of environmental issues around the bases and their potential effects on human health, the VA must step up to bring a change and compensate their service members after retirement.

Help PI Warriors Lobby To Get PACT Protections For West Coast Bases!

Recent revelations on the environmental damage by the Environmental Protection Agency and human health forced the implementation of new laws and regulations about chemical disposal at bases. However, in 2019, the New York Times reported on TCE and how the US military is still using the toxic chemical on 2,200 of its facilities to degrease the metal parts of their aircraft. Service members continue to get exposed to poisonous chemicals, and the worst part of all is that they are not aware of the damage from exposure to TCE and other chemicals while on duty at installations.

At Ehline Law, we help veterans exposed to toxic chemicals and even PTSD at Tustin, El Toro, Camp Lejeune, and others under the PACT ACT. We are pushing for legislation to help West Coast vets get PACT ACT protections. If you are suffering from illnesses resulting from your time as a serviceman, it could be due to exposure to deadly chemicals. Contact us for legal assistance ad speak to one of our attorney-members under a free consultation to learn more information about your potential your toxic exposure claim and get it moving.