STORAGE TRENCHES PROBLEM.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - The Air Force is looking at three options, ranging in cost from $1.1 million to $13 million, for handling four filled-in trenches that were once part of a 1940s chemical weapons storage area.
The three options are to restrict access and establish monitoring stations, covering the area with concrete and installing monitoring stations, and excavating the trenches. The costs associated with the three options are $1.1 million, $1.3 million, and $8 million to $13 million, respectively.
The Air Force will be issuing a draft engineering and cost analysis of the options this fall.
The trenches are just 23 1/2 feet from a $10.6 million, 136-person dorm that opened in 1998.
Desert Citizens Against Pollution, an Antelope Valley environmental group, is seeking the excavation of the site. As long as the material in the trenches stays in place, there is potential exposure to those living in the dorms and there is the potential for the site to be forgotten and stumbled upon years from now, its leaders say.
``It's the uneasiness of the unknown,'' DCAP member Lyle Talbot said. ``There's no telling what persistent exposure will do.''
In a letter to DCAP, Robert Wood, chief of the Edwards' Environmental Restoration Division, said an Air Force peer review board determined that ``some level of capping is all that is required to protect human health and the environment at this site.''
Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts, an alternate member to Edwards' Environmental Restoration Advisory Board, said given the limited funding available it might be best not to dig up the trenches. Funding could be better spent on areas where there are known contaminants.
``I think they should monitor it carefully and if there is a change then do something,'' Roberts said.
The trenches were part of a chemical weapons storage area in the 1940s, but there are no records indicating what was in the trenches before they were covered.
Each trench is 165 feet long, 15 feet wide and of an unknown depth - topped by at least 3 feet of dirt.
The Air Force became aware of the trenches in September 1997, about the same time contracts were awarded for construction of the new dorm, officials said.
An archives search determined there was a chemical weapons storage area there from 1942 to about 1947 or 1948. At the time, the area was a remote section of the base, then named Muroc.
Photographs have been found showing the construction of dormitories in the 1950s next to the trenches - an indication that nothing then considered harmful was buried there, environmental officials said.