Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to site content




McChord Air Force Base (McCAFB), an active aircraft station covering 4,616 acres, isapproximately 7 miles south of Tacoma, in Pierce County, Washington. The base served as abomber base during World War II. The base currently stations C-141 Starlifter aircraft andprovides for the airlift of troops, equipment, passengers, and mail. Operations at the base haveinvolved the use, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials, including industrial solvents,cleaning compounds, electroplating chemicals, heavy metals, low-level radioactive wastes, andvarious fuel oils and lubricants. McCAFB has identified 65 locations on base as confirmed orpotential sources of contamination; contaminant characterization is ongoing.

In 1983, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected in private well water at an off-baseresidential area in the northeast corner of the American Lake Garden Tract (ALGT). Contaminated groundwater plumes emanating from McCAFB are responsible for VOCcontamination in those private wells. McCAFB first provided potentially affected homes bottledwater; later the base offered ALGT residents connections to a municipal water source, in 1984and again in 1993. Two residences in ALGT use private wells completed in the contaminatedsurficial aquifer for potable purposes, however, the levels of contamination are not of healthconcern. These two residences have refused connections to the municipal water source. Peoplemay have been exposed to VOCs at levels of health concern through inhalation and ingestion of,or dermal contact with, the contaminated water. A small increase in cancer rates in adults andchildren might be expected as a result of exposure to TCE-contaminated water. However,because of the small number of people potentially affected and the prevailing incidence of cancerdue to other causes, an actual increase in cancer cases may not occur or may not be detectable in the ALGT population.

VOC contamination has also been detected emanating from Fort Lewis which is bounded byALGT on the south and McCAFB on the southeast; that contamination contributes to thegroundwater contamination in the southwest portion of ALGT.

Contaminants of concern have also been detected in the surficial groundwater on McCAFB(VOCs and metals) at levels of health concern. McCAFB frequently monitors base water supplywells to determine if the surficial contamination has contaminated the deeper aquifer thatsupplies drinking water to the base. Two of the base supply wells and the drinking water taplocations within those two distribution systems are contaminated with TCE, but, currently, thecontamination levels are not of health concern.

Based on the available information, ATSDR has concluded that the 65 sites at McCAFB are noapparent public health hazard; however, if in the future contaminants from the soil andgroundwater migrate off-site or towards the base supply wells via the groundwater, then a publichealth hazard could exist. Long-term groundwater monitoring is in place to ensure that migrationof contaminants would be detected before any exposures would occur. Also, the site (Site 44,Area G) where the two contaminated base supply wells are is currently undergoingenvironmental characterization.

There are insufficient or no community-specific health outcome data to indicate that the site hashad an adverse impact on human health. A few residents in the ALGT residential area areconcerned that exposures to contaminants in groundwater from McCAFB could have causedcancer and other adverse health effects.

ATSDR recommends continued monitoring of base water supply wells and of the contaminationof the surficial aquifer in the long-term monitoring program.

The ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) has evaluated the data andinformation in this public health assessment and has determined that no additional communityinvolvement by ATSDR with the residents in ALGT is indicated. The Public Health Action Plandefines the implementation of actions recommended in this public health assessment.


A. Site Description and History

McChord Air Force Base (McCAFB) is about 7 miles south of downtown Tacoma, Washington,on 4,616 acres of land in Pierce County. The base is bounded on the north by Tacoma; on theeast and west by residential communities; on the southwest by a residential area (the AmericanLake Garden Tract); and on the southeast by the Fort Lewis, a site of industrial operations andmilitary training since 1917. Parts of the western side of McCAFB are bordered by Interstate 5. A number of communities surround the base, including Tillicum, American Lake Garden Tract,Lakeview, Lakewood, Clover Park, Ponders Corner, Parkland, and Tacoma. Clover Creek runsacross the base, crosses under I-5, and then runs through Lakewood to Steilacoom Lake. ABurlington Northern railroad right-of-way bisects the base, separating the easternindustrial/operations part of the base from a munitions storage area, family housing, and theWhispering Firs golf course. Figure 1, Appendix A, shows McChord AFB and vicinity. Thebase is fenced and has guarded gates.

Before 1938, the area where McCAFB is located was known as Tacoma Field, a small dirt-stripcounty airport on prairie pasturelands. Deeded to the Army by Pierce County in 1938, the baseserved as a bomber base during World War II. In 1948, McChord Army Base was redesignatedMcChord Air Force Base and became an Air Force processing station for the region. During theKorean Conflict, fighter jets were assigned to McCAFB; during the Vietnam Conflict, McCAFBwas a major gateway to the conflict zone. In 1968, the 62nd Military Airlift Wing (MAW) tookover command of McCAFB. The base currently stations C-141 Starlifter and A-10 aircraft andprovides for the airlift of troops, equipment, passengers, and mail. The 62nd MAW wasredesignated the 62nd Airlift Wing in 1992.

The majority of industrial operations, including vehicle maintenance shops, plating shop, and jetengine shops, that generate hazardous waste at McCAFB have operated since 1939 (CH2M Hill1982). The plating shop no longer exists (Jackson 1993). The industrial operations generatevarying quantities of waste oil, fuels, solvents, and cleaning compounds. In the past, standardon-base disposal practices for the wastes have included the use of dry wells or leaching-soakingpits, burning trenches, fire training areas, storm drains that drain to Clover Creek, on-sitelandfills, and the sanitary sewer (CH2M Hill 1982). These disposal practices were discontinuedprior to 1982 (Jackson 1993).

In 1980, Department of Defense components were required, as part of the Installation RestorationProgram (IRP), to establish a program with priorities for conducting records searches at theirinstallations and to identify their abandoned hazardous waste disposal sites. In 1982, during theIRP Phase I Records Search, 62 sites were identified at McCAFB. Some of the sites were latergrouped by proximity into Areas A-J. Two additional sites (a petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL)contaminated area and an entomology shop dry well) were identified in 1984 and in 1989 by theWashington Department of Ecology and by McChord AFB, respectively. In 1991, Site 65 wasadded to the list of waste sites. Site 65 includes 22 underground storage tanks in the DefenseEnvironmental Restoration Program; the tanks are at seven different locations on base.

Sixty-four sites are identified in Figure 2, Appendix A; Figure 3, Appendix A depicts how theareas of contamination are addressed in this public health assessment. Site-specific backgroundmaterial, historical details, and information about on-base areas, environmental contaminantinvestigations, and contaminants of concern for all 65 sites at McCAFB are included inAppendix B. Off-base contamination information pertinent to the ALGT residential area isincluded in the main text of this public health assessment. Site descriptions and waste types at each area are given in Table 1.

Two McCAFB areas have been listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA)National Priorities List (NPL) as established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response,Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) as amended. Two areas at the adjacent FortLewis are also NPL sites. The two NPL areas at McCAFB are Area D/American Lake GardenTract (Area D/ALGT) Site and the Washrack/Treatment Area (WTA).

In March 1984, local county and EPA officials reported that two private wells in the northeasternpart of the ALGT residential area had been contaminated with volatile organic compounds(VOCs) migrating from landfills on McCAFB. The ALGT residential area is adjacent to Area Din the southwestern corner of the base. The Area D/ALGT site, including the off-base ALGTresidential area and the adjacent on-base golf course and surrounding area, was listed on the NPL in 1984. For purposes of this report, the NPL Area D/ALGT site will be referred to as such; the off-base ALGT residential area will be referred to as "ALGT."

Although the Area D/ALGT Site is considered a CERCLA site and not a DOD site, it is includedin this public health assessment because the groundwater contamination in the northeastern partof ALGT migrated from McCAFB. Within this area, two landfills (Sites 5 and 39) under the golfcourse were sources of trichloroethylene (TCE) and cis-1,2-dichloroethylene (cis-1,2-DCE)contamination in the shallow groundwater. The selected remedial action authorized in theSeptember 1991 record of decision (ROD) includes: 1) connecting ALGT residences that arestill using private wells to an alternative drinking water supply and 2) remediating groundwater(long term) by adsorption of the contaminants onto activated carbon. IRP site 5 will remain opento track the remediation of the aquifer and the monitoring of the groundwater throughout theALGT Site. No response actions are planned for the six other IRP sites (Sites 4, 6, 7, 26, 35, and 39); however, the groundwater at this NPL site is undergoing long-term monitoring.

The Washrack/Treatment Area (WTA) site was listed on the NPL in 1987. The WTA site is thelocation of a washrack operation and includes the storm drainage infiltration ditches. Two IRPsites are in the vicinity of the WTA: Site 54, the washrack rinsate disposal area (two leach pits)where organic solvents used to clean airplanes were disposed; and Site 60, a plume of floatingproduct. Groundwater studies in the immediate WTA area have documented a layer of fuelfloating on top of the water table. That fuel layer is either diesel fuel or aviation fuel (AVGAS). The selected remediation described in the record of decision published in 1992 includedextracting, collecting, and removing the floating fuel in the unconfined aquifer. Later, a pilotstudy revealed much less floating fuel than originally thought and the need for remedial actionwas re-evaluated. The final decision is natural attenuation and long-term groundwatermonitoring.

Table 1.

Site Description and Contamination by Area(CH2M Hill 1982, EMB 1991c)
AreaSiteSite DescriptionWastesDisposal/
Spill Dates
A 1Burial pit Boiler ash, industrial waste 1946-1956?

2DumpBoiler ash, industrial, domestic, construction, demolition waste1957-1976

34Tank farm areaFuel tank sludge, fuel (JP-4 and leaded fuel) disposal; fuel spills1956-?

46Fuel (JP-4) spill50,000-gallon JP-4 fuel spill; no remediationearly 1960s
B 38Liquid disposal/spill sitealong C rampWaste fuels, petroleum, oil, lubricant disposal; 900 gallons of 1,500- gallon spillin 1980 were recovered1940s-1960s

40Liquid disposal siteWaste petroleum, oil, and lubricant; motor pool solvents1951-1960s

41Fuel (AVGAS) spillFuel line leak undetected for up to 6 months; quantity unknown; no recovery1965

47Fuel spill at C ramp25,000 gallons fuel (type unknown) leaked from underground pipe; no recoveryUnknown

52Spill site, Bldg. 1173Oil, synthetic lubricants, and hydraulic fluidsUnknown

53Spill site, Bldgs. 1147 to1159Waste fuels, petroleum, oil, lubricant, and solvents; drainage through skimmerinto storm drainage ditch connecting to Clover CreekUnknown

55Spill area between Bldgs.1170 and 1164Fuels, POL, and solventsUnknown
C 12LandfillIndustrial and construction wastes, coal ash1939-1952

33Former fire training areaWaste fuel (AVGAS)1940s-1950

37Liquid disposal site
along "D" ramp
Waste fuels and POL1940s-1960s

42Liquid waste spill
at refueling docks
Waste POL and fuelsUnknown

45Fuel spill between Hangars 1and 2AVGAS spill (2,000 gallons) - washed away1950s

57Leach pit near Hangar 1Industrial wastes, including petroleum, oil, lubricants, degreasers, other solvents,and electroplating wastesUnknown

58Leach pit (acid dry well)Industrial wastesUnknown

61Leach pit between Bldg. 745and Clover CreekElectroplating wastes1953-1960

62Dump pad/infiltration areaPlating tank sludges; drainage to Clover CreekUnknown
54Liquid disposal/spill adjacentto washrack and includingIndustrial Waste WaterTreatment PlantSolvents, alkaline-base detergents, paint removers, corrosion-removingcompounds, degreasers, and waste oils; drainage of waste into Clover Creekuntreated until 1948; information from personal interviews in 1982 estimated thatin 1968, total flow to leach pits was approximately 8,000 gallons per day;problems in past with skimmer 1940s-?

60Leach pit and storm drainageinfiltration ditchesPOL wastes1950s-?
4Gravel pitRubbish, garbage and industrial wastes1941-1978

5Landfill under golf courseLarge quantities of hazardous wastes disposed, including waste oil and fuel1951-1967

6LandfillConstruction wastes1961-?

7Landfill under golf courseIndustrial, domestic, and construction wastes1967-1972

26Ordnance disposalResidue from ordnance deactivation; 500 live grenades were reported to be buriedin area1943-1956

35Liquid radioactive disposalwell (depth unknown)Washwater from decontamination of radar components, fluorescent dials;possibly medical waste liquids; all disposed down a well1950s

39Liquid waste disposal siteadjacent to golf courseWaste fuel (JP-4), solvents, and POL were burned1956-1960
E 10Landfill north of Bldg. 304Industrial, domestic, and construction wastes1950s-1966

49Liquid spill area south ofBldg. 392Waste fuels, POL, and solventsUnknown

50Liquid spill area west of 6thStreetWaste fuels, including large quantities of JP-4; POL; and solvents; 2,000- gallonspill in 1981, not known if contained1962-?

51Liquid spill area, drainageditch west of 6th StreetWaste fuels, POL, paints, and solventsUnknown

56Septic tank systemPossible herbicide and pesticide residuesPre-1948
F/H 27Former fire training area Waste fuels, JP-4, and AVGAS 1960-1977

28 Former fire training areaWaste fuels, such as JP-4; active for one or two years1960s

29Former crash fire trainingarea (Shown on base maps,but no other information)UnknownNever active

30Former fire training areaSolvents, alcohol, AVGAS, and oils were burned during training exercises1955-1960

31Former fire training areaSolvents, alcohol, AVGAS, and oils were burned during training exercises1950-1955

32Current fire training areaWaste fuel (JP-4)1976-1990
G 44Motor pool leach pits,disposal/spill siteWaste fuels, POL, and solventsUnknown
I 13General landfillDomestic and construction waste; 50 drums of liquid waste, including paints andsolvents; open burning took place in 1950s1950-1979

22Burial siteCars and heavy equipment; waste POL1939-1951
J 36Storm drain ditch Waste paint, oil, and fuelUnknown

48Pentachlorophenol woodpreservative tankPentachlorophenol overflow and spills1950s-?
Unspecified Area 3Burial siteLow-level radioactive waste1950s

8Burial siteCoal Ash1950s

9Burial siteFire brick and hardwood flooringUnknown

11LandfillDemolition and construction debrisUntil 1970

14Burial siteDemolition and construction debris1972-1973

15Unauthorized surface dumpDomestic wastes1960-1972

16Burial siteMiscellaneous automotive and aircraft equipment 1940s-?

17Burial siteDemolition debris; small amount industrial wastes1950s

18Burial site (dry well)Caustic sodaUntil 1970s

19Burial siteDomestic and demolition debris1952-1965

20Burial siteDomestic and demolition debrisUnknown

21Burial siteDemolition and construction debrisUnknown

23LandfillDemolition and construction debrisUnknown

24DumpFlight line sweepings (loose, natural objects, such as rocks and vegetation)1957-1960

25Surface DumpFlight line sweepings, chemicals to remove runway rubber deposits, includingcresylic acid, benzene, and phenolic compounds1950s-1970

43Liquid waste disposal sitePOL for weed controlUntil 1960s

59 Fuel oil spillFuel oil (1,000 gallons)1960s

63Remediated POL (spell out)soil contamination in twoareasPOL; contaminated soils removed in 19881984

64Entomology shop dry wellEntomology wastesUnknown

65Underground storage tanks -22 at 7 different locationsIncludes tanks eligible for the Defense Environmental Restoration Program;removal of tanks is planned; any soil and groundwater contamination will beinvestigated during the removal.Unknown

In 1990, the Washington Department of Ecology reviewed the hazardous waste contamination at55 sites identified during the Installation Restoration Program investigations. The Department ofEcology identified 29 sites for site hazard assessment, 22 for no further action, and four forconfirmational sampling (groundwater monitoring and soil sampling) (Liverman 1990). Aconsent decree signed in February 1992 by the Department of Ecology, the U.S. Department ofJustice, and the U.S. Air Force described how the 29 sites would be moved through site hazardassessment into remedial investigation, cleanup, or no further action. Site hazard assessment of29 sites began in January 1993. McCAFB identified 18 sites where additional environmentalsampling information was needed. That workplan conforms to the clean-up regulations of theState of Washington Model Toxics Control Act of 1987. Depending on the sampling results, thefour sites identified for long-term groundwater monitoring and soil sampling would require either no further action or site hazard assessment.

Three remedial activities have taken place at McChord AFB. The first remediation involvedcontaminated soil at two areas, which are designated as one site (Site 63) (Dames and Moore1986). Near Building 792, soils contaminated with JP-4 jet fuel were removed and replacedsequentially with uncontaminated soil and a semi-permeable fabric sloping toward a gravel-filledtrench. The area was then covered with topsoil and grass sod. Near Building 1173, the soilswere predominantly contaminated with hydraulic fluid beneath the asphalt pavement. That soilwas removed, replaced with crushed rock, and capped with asphalt concrete pavement. Theremediation was completed in January 1987.

At Sites 27 and 32, fuel-contaminated soil was identified during site hazard assessment in 1993. Approximately 6,000 yards of soil were removed at each location. A release from anunderground storage tank discovered during the excavation of Site 32 occurred. The tank wasalso removed and the area beneath the tank was excavated to remove the contaminated soils. Analysis of confirmational samples which were collected from both excavations detected noadditional contamination.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) first involvement withMcChord Air Force Base was in 1988, when two preliminary public health assessments (bothmade final January 19, 1989) were prepared by the Agency. In the assessment of the AreaD/ALGT Site, ATSDR concluded that the site was of potential public health concern because ofthe risk to public health caused by the possibility of exposure to hazardous substances in thegroundwater through use of private wells in the ALGT residential area. In the assessment for theWTA, ATSDR concluded that the site was of potential public health concern because of the riskto human health caused by the possibility of exposure to hazardous substances in thegroundwater, surface water, soil, and sediment/leachate. ATSDR emphasized the need, becauseof the environmental contamination, to evaluate the entire base for public health implications. ATSDR recommended further environmental characterization of both NPL sites and potentiallyaffected off-site areas during the remedial investigation/feasibility studies (RI/FS) to address thepotential human exposure pathways. These concerns were addressed by McCAFB during theRI/FS studies (EBASCO Environmental 1991a and 1991b; EBASCO Services Incorporated, 1992a and 1992b.)

B. Site Visits

ATSDR staff visited the site area March 26-28, 1991. ATSDR representatives met with the EPAfederal facility remedial project manager to discuss the status of the two NPL sites at McCAFB. In addition, ATSDR staff met with McCAFB personnel and representatives of the WashingtonDepartment of Ecology, Washington Department of Health, and the Tacoma-Pierce CountyHealth Department. Information from state and local officials has been incorporated intoappropriate sections of this public health assessment. The mission of ATSDR, the public healthassessment process, and the current status of the IRP at the base were discussed.

A site inspection tour was conducted by base personnel for ATSDR staff and staterepresentatives, including the sites believed to be associated with human exposure: the two NPLareas, two radioactive waste sites, five fire training areas, and a fuel tank farm. Information about the sites was provided by both McChord Air Force Base personnel and state officials.

  • One NPL site, designated the Area D/ALGT site, includes the off-base ALGT, a residential area,and the adjacent on-base golf course. Two landfills (Sites 5 and 39) under the golf course havebeen determined to be the original sources of TCE and 1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE)contamination in the shallow groundwater on and off base. The site visitors walked theperimeter of the base near an off-site, 10-acre residence where one of the TCE-contaminatedwells is located. A paved road separates the golf course from the northeastern corner of theALGT residential area. Several clusters of monitoring wells were seen in the resident's backyard abutting the base.

  • Some areas of the other NPL site, the WTA, were paved; others had a mowed grassy cover.

  • Five separate inactive fire training areas are near the eastern base boundary. All of the areas,which are within a mile of each other, are open to access by base personnel and their families. One area (Site 32) was most recently used in May 1990; the rest are abandoned. Stressedvegetation was seen at the most recently used site, as well as at one of the abandoned areas (Site27). ATSDR staff saw numerous bikers and joggers on a road that is about 150 feet from thisunfenced site. (Note: Since this site visit in March 1991, soil contamination at Sites 27 and 32has been remediated. The excavation area at Site 32 has been fenced to prevent access. A newfire training area will be constructed at the excavation pit at Site 32 [Jackson 1993].)

  • The bulk fuel storage area consists of four aboveground fuel (JP-4) storage tanks with capacitiesranging from 210,000 to 840,000 gallons. Two studies have been conducted to characterize theJP-4 spills in this area, which is adjacent to the western base boundary. Two off-base businesses/residential buildings are approximately 100 feet north of the base boundary fence. Thosebuildings are connected to the municipal water source. McCAFB staff mentioned seeing bottlerockets inside the storage area fence and near the fuel storage tanks; persons may have beenshooting bottle rockets into the area from outside the boundary fence.

  • The North and South supply wells that provide drinking water for the base are near the center ofthe base. Analysis has detected low-level VOC contamination since 1988. This contaminationhas not been detected in seven other supply wells which are also part of the base water system.

ATSDR staff visited McCAFB again (November 5-8, 1991) to attend McChord's Citizens'Advisory Meeting; to tour sites not seen during the first site visit; to gather community concernsfrom residents; and to acquire additional information and documentation for the public healthassessment. Most of the additional sites toured were on the industrial part of the base, Areas B and C. Liquid waste, including petroleum, oils, lubricants, solvents, and fuels, were reported tohave been disposed or spilled in those areas. Soil contamination was not seen; however, most of the surface was covered with cement or grass.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use


On-Base Residential Areas

According to the 1990 census, just more than 4,500 lived in the McCAFB census tract. Tables 2 and 3 summarize the population and housing characteristics of McCAFB. Approximately 750people (16.2%) lived in group quarters, such as barracks or dormitories. The remainder lived inhouseholds on base. The on-base housing areas are shown in Figure 4, Appendix A. Typical ofmilitary installations, there were a large number of children under age 10 living on the base, butvery few elderly people. The census reported an average of 3.87 people per household, which ishigh relative to the general population but typical of a military base. More than one half of the residents move each year because of frequent transfers of military personnel. Between 5,000 and 6,000 civilians work at McChord AFB.

Table 2.

Population Characteristics of McChord AFB
Total persons4,538
Total area, square miles7.05
Persons per square mile643
% Male57.2
% Female42.8
% White78.8
% Black12.5
% American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut1.0
% Asian or Pacific Islander5.4
% Other races2.4
% Hispanic origin5.4
% Under age 1029.6
% Age 65 and older0.1

Source: 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Summary Tape File 1 (Washington). Prepared by Bureau of theCensus, Washington, D.C., 1991.

Table 3.

Housing Characteristics of McChord AFB
Persons per household3.87
% Persons in group quarters16.2
Median value, owner-occupied households ($)Not
Median rent paid, renter-occupied households ($)397

* A household is an occupied housing unit that does not include group quarters, such as military barracks, prisons, andcollege dormitories.

Source: 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Summary Tape File 1 (Washington). Prepared by Bureau of theCensus, Washington, D.C., 1991.

Off-Base Residential Areas

American Lake Garden Tract (ALGT)

This residential area is southwest of McChord; ALGT also borders Fort Lewis (see location inFigure 4, Appendix A). Residents of this area have expressed a number of health concerns. TheALGT area was settled as a small farming community in the early 1900s. The area has beenpredominantly residential since the 1960s, when demand for military personnel housingincreased. Approximately 1,180 housing units are in the ALGT neighborhood, which is betweenMcChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis. Many residents are enlisted military personnel. Mostof the housing consists of low-cost apartment complexes or mobile home parks. More than onehalf of the military residents move each year because of frequent transfers.

Tables 4 and 5 contain 1990 Census data for ALGT. The area (less than 1 square mile) had atotal population of 3,064. The percentage of children under age 10 (28.0%) is higher than thestate percentage of 15.2%; that relatively large number of young children is typical of areas nearmilitary installations. As shown in Table 4, the racial composition of this neighborhood isdiverse. The high percentage of households that are renter occupied (85.7%) is representative of areas near military bases and indicates a transient population.

Lakewood (Eastern Part)

The triangular part of Lakewood, bordered by McCAFB on the south and east, is shown in Figure4, Appendix A. Drinking water for this residential area comes from the Lakewood Water Districtand private and public wells. Like ALGT, this area covers less than 1 square mile, is denselypopulated, and has a racially diverse population (see census information in Tables 4 and 5). There are also high percentages of children and renter-occupied housing units.

Area East of Base

Two rectangular areas immediately east of the base contain some households (6-10 each) withprivate wells (see locations in Figure 4, Appendix A). The two areas do not have access tomunicipal well water. Private or public drinking water wells also are used by residents in areaseast of the base who are served by Parkland Light and Water Company. Refer to censusinformation in Tables 4 and 5. Site 32, the most recently used fire training area, is about 1,500feet downgradient of a residential area with private wells. Site 27, a former fire training area, is about 500 feet downgradient of another residential area.

Table 4.

Population Characteristics of Off-Base Residential Areas

ALGTLakewoodArea East
Total persons3,0644,5171,263
Total area, square miles0.530.641.01
Persons per square mile5,7817,0141,251
% Male48.049.649.6
% Female52.050.450.4
% White62.456.980.3
% Black23.827.68.9
% American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut1.81.41.0
% Asian or Pacific Islander8.411.08.7
% Other races3.73.11.1
% Hispanic origin8.68.43.6
% Under age 1028.026.015.6
% Age 65 and older2.61.97.8

Source: 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Summary Tape File 1 (Washington). Prepared by Bureau of theCensus, Washington, D.C., 1991.

Table 5.

Housing Characteristics of Off-Base Residential Areas

ALGTLakewoodArea East
Persons per household2.682.482.84
% Households owner occupied14.38.780.2
% Households renter occupied85.791.319.8
% Households mobile homes10.94.46.5
Median value, owner-occupied households ($)~85,000~50,000~108,500
Median rent paid, renter-occupied households ($)~295~330~453

* A household is an occupied housing unit that does not include group quarters, such as military barracks, prisons, andcollege dormitories.

Source: 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Summary Tape File 1 (Washington). Prepared by Bureau of theCensus, Washington, D.C., 1991.

Land Use


McCAFB occupies about 7 square miles of partially wooded grasslands on the upland plainabove Puget Sound. A Burlington Northern Railroad right-of-way in a north-south alignmentdivides the base. All aircraft mobilization and maintenance services, plus almost alladministrative and support functions, are on the eastern section of the base.

West of the railroad right-of-way is the Area D/ALGT site, which includes housing, a golfcourse, and other open-space recreational areas. Area D includes the Northwest Air DefenseSector Headquarters, residential areas, the Whispering Firs Golf Course, Wescott HillsCommunication station, a child care center, and horse stables. Also included in Area D are anursery school, two elementary schools in the Heartwood Housing area, and a soccer field. Onehundred-twenty additional housing units are near the center of the base.

Dormitory units are immediately north of Clover Creek as it exits the base to the west. Thesouthern part of the base (695 acres) is used for mission-essential training purposes and theSecurity Police Squadron Confidence Course.

Four areas at McCAFB have been left natural for recreational use: Mountain View (10 acres),Porter Hills (145 acres), Wescott Hills (100 acres), and Gasking Park (10 acres). Holiday Park,on the southeastern side of the base, is a 45-acre facility with day-use and camping facilities. Nothreatened or endangered species of animals or plants are known to live there. Pheasant huntingwas allowed on the southern part of the base until 1987. No other hunting has been allowed atMcCAFB.

Off base

The land surrounding the base is commercial, residential, and agricultural. The part ofLakewood abutting McCAFB has more than 20 multi-family housing units which are across thestreet from Area A, the bulk fuel storage area. A dry cleaners is also in this area, which is justnorth of McCAFB. The southeastern tip of McCAFB borders the northeastern corner of FortLewis. Just east of Interstate 5, sandwiched between the northwestern tip of Ft. Lewis and thesouthern end of McCAFB, is the American Lake Garden Tract, a housing community consistingof single-family residential homes, small horse farms, elementary schools, a day-care center, anda junior high school. No industrial activities or hazardous materials spills, storage, or disposalare known to have taken place within the area. Historically, commercial activities have beenlimited to gasoline service stations, auto repair shops, a laundromat, a grocery store, a barbershop, and restaurant and equestrian facilities. Land east of McCAFB is mainly wooded andvegetated, with some wetlands and residential areas.

C. Natural Resource Use

Some of the residents in all of the adjacent off-base residential areas use private or public wellsthat could be completed in the surficial aquifer which is contaminated in some areas onMcCAFB. In Washington, public wells are defined as wells serving two or more households;private wells serve only one household. Municipal water supply sources serve other residentialareas around McCAFB, but some residents in those areas still use private or public wells fordrinking water. The municipal wells, which are usually completed in deeper, uncontaminatedaquifers (exceptions noted in the following paragraphs), are regularly tested for contaminants.

Surface Water Use

The highly permeable nature of the surface soil allows rapid infiltration of precipitation (rain,snow, etc.), with little to no surface flow and only occasional, short-term accumulation of waterin ponds. The lakes and wetlands in isolated, low topographic areas are not drained by streams. The single perennial stream on base, Clover Creek, intersects Morey Creek Pond within theeastern border of McCAFB. The combined stream passes through a 0.6-mile-long culvertbeneath the runway and taxiway, is channeled around the northern industrial area, and flowsoff-base along its original bed towards Steilacoom Lake, which is 2 miles away. Clover Creekrecharges to the groundwater for most of its length.

The entire length of Clover Creek can be used for fishing, except the portion that flows under theactive runway through a culvert. That creek has been designated by the Washington Departmentof Natural Resources as a selective fishery for cutthroat trout. Other surface water bodies usedfor fishing include Morey Pond (which covers 4 acres), Morey Creek (240 feet), and Carter Lake(3 acres). Morey Creek and Morey Pond are on the southeastern part of the base, within 400 feetof two fire training areas (sites 30 and 31). Carter Lake is in the Heartwood Housing area. Otherwater bodies in the area are seasonal and not used for recreation, except as water hazards on thegolf course. The 23 wetlands areas cover 122 acres. Most of the wetlands are on the western(Area D) or southern parts of the base.

Groundwater Use

On base

The on-base drinking water system consists of nine drinking water wells; all but one are screenedin the lower aquifers. All of the drinking water wells are on the same distribution system, exceptthe Signal Hill Well (No. 832). Figure 5 in Appendix A shows the locations of the drinkingwater wells. The Sage Well No. 847 is screened at a depth of 35 to 69 feet in the surficialaquifer; it is an ancillary well used primarily for watering the golf course. All of the other base wells are screened in the deeper aquifers.

Off base

Municipal Water

Two municipal water companies supply water to off-base residences and businesses. TheParkland Light and Water Company (PLWC) draws most of its water from the secondary aquiferor a deeper aquifer. Two of the municipal wells, which are about 4,000 feet east and upgradientof two former fire training areas (Sites 27 and 28) are 30 feet deep. The next shallowest depth ofany of the municipal wells at five different locations is about 170 feet.

A PLWC employee stated that although the maximum total capacity of the two wells completedin the surficial aquifer is rather high (4,300 gallons/minute), that capacity causes no draw-downeffect (ATSDR 1992b, ATSDR 1993d). PLWC supplies residences and businesses east of thebase; that area reaches about as far north and south as the boundaries of McCAFB.

The Lakewood Water District draws water from 16 different locations west of McCAFB. Alldrinking water wells in this system are approximately 300 feet deep (ATSDR 1991a). Two welllocations, Ponders Corners and Tillicum, are within 4,000 feet of McCAFB. The wells at thosetwo locations are currently being monitored for VOCs every 2 weeks. The wells at PondersCorners were contaminated with tetrachloroethylene (PCE) from an off-base dry cleaners(ATSDR 1992c). An air stripper is being used to remove PCE from the groundwater. Thesurficial aquifer at the Tillicum well location is contaminated with TCE emanating from FortLewis. The Tillicum well which is completed in the deeper aquifer is being tested regularly toensure that the surficial contamination does not migrate downward into the deeper aquifer(ATSDR 1991a).

Private Wells

Residents of several off-base areas near McCAFB are known to have access to private wells. Figure 4 in Appendix A shows the locations of those residential areas, including ALGT. In 1984,the surficial aquifer on the northeastern corner of ALGT was found to be contaminated withVOCs that had migrated from the landfills under the McCAFB golf course. Since then,McCAFB has twice offered ALGT residents connections for municipal water. The owners oftwo residences in ALGT near the contamination plume (at a concentration of 0.5 ppb TCE)refused the municipal connections. Those are the only residences near the known ALGTgroundwater contamination plume still using private well water for drinking purposes (ATSDR1993c).

Two of the residential areas east of McCAFB have no drinking water source besides privatewells. Some residences on the eastern side that are in the PLWC service area also have private or public wells.

Residences in the triangular part of Lakewood bounded by McCAFB on the east and south andby Interstate 5 on the northwest are served by the Lakewood Water District, but some residentsmay still obtain drinking water from private or public wells. The 90 trailer spaces at the FirAcres Mobile Home Park were provided connections to municipal water in the fall of 1993(ATSDR 1993c). Only one residence is known to be obtaining drinking water from a private well (ATSDR 1993c).

D. Health Outcome Data

The Washington Department of Health maintains a Vital Statistics Department and an Office ofRegistries. The Vital Statistics Department gathers information on numbers of deaths, births, and fetal deaths for the state of Washington. Variables included in this database are geographic location (city, county, town); age; sex; race; address; cause of death; birth weight; gestational age; and birth defects.

The Washington Birth Defects Registry is a record of children with serious birth defectsdiagnosed before the first birthday. The database contains information by major birth defectclassifications and by demographic factors: county of residence, sex, race, address, and mother's occupation, smoking history, and age. Data for births in military hospitals are not included. As of August 1991, information was available for the entire state from 1986-1989.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, a private organization, maintains a CancerSurveillance System (CSS) for the state. The CSS works under contract to the Surveillance,Epidemiology and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute. The CSS database isthe central repository for all newly diagnosed malignancies (except nonmelanotic skin cancers) inresidents of 13 counties of the northwestern part of Washington state. The database includes fivestandard metropolitan statistical areas: the Seattle-Everett area (King and Snohomish counties),Tacoma (Pierce County), Kitsap County, and Thurston County; the areas have a population ofapproximately 1 million people. The population-based cancer surveillance system monitors theincidence and mortality of specific cancers over time. The variables collected in this database aredesigned to permit the detection of differential risks of cancer by geographic region, age, race,sex, marital status, social security number, occupation, type of cancer, extent of disease,treatment, hospital identification, and other demographic data. This information is available for Pierce County since January 1, 1974.


Through meetings with the public in November 1991 and through phone calls made to citizens in May and June 1992, ATSDR identified the following concerns related to environmentalcontamination at McCAFB. These concerns are addressed in the section Public HealthImplications, Community Health Concerns Evaluation.

  1. How serious is the groundwater contamination in the ALGT area, and can it affect my health? Can drinking contaminated private well water in the ALGT area cause cancer? Can drinkingcontaminated water cause health effects specific to women and/or their offspring?

  2. Is it safe to use private well water from ALGT for irrigation? Can contaminants fromMcCAFB be absorbed by garden crops?

  3. Is the contamination in Lake Steilacoom caused by contaminants from McCAFB that couldhave flowed to the lake via Clover Creek?

  4. Could the Lakewood Water District municipal wells be affected by contaminants fromMcCAFB?

Next Section      Table of Contents The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
Contact CDC: 800-232-4636 / TTY: 888-232-6348

A-Z Index

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #