Quantcast

Pollution From Air Force Keeps Causing Cancer in Tucson, Residents Say

Health + Wellness
The Tucson International Airport Area Superfund Site, shown here in 2012, was listed by the EPA in 1983. Luis Jou García / Flickr

Twenty-seven years ago, 1,600 residents of Tucson, Arizona's south side settled an $84.5 million dollar lawsuit with Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon Missile Systems Co.), claiming the Air Force contractor had been dumping the industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) into the water table for 29 years since 1952, causing cancers and other ailments.

Now, more South Tucson residents are coming forward to claim that justice still hasn't been served.


Within the last year, more than 1,350 South Tucsonans have filed claims with the Air Force saying they continue to suffer from illnesses caused by the drinking-water pollution its contractors used to dump into the ground surrounding the Tucson International Airport, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The Arizona Daily Star, which reported on the story last week, did not yet know the details of the majority of cases, but spoke to residents who blame the pollution for cancers, heart disease and autoimmune disorders such as lupus, which has been linked to TCE.

Air Force spokesperson Mark Kinkade told the Star that the Air Force had not yet made a decision about any of the claims and had not yet set a timeline for doing so.

South Tucson resident and activist Linda Robles, who is organizing the filing of the claims, said that the current claims were from people who either hadn't known about the first round of lawsuits or hadn't been sick at the time, the Star reported.

Robles has personally experienced the devastation wrought by contaminated drinking water. She lost one daughter to lupus, and two of her other children also have the disease. Her ex-husband had a kidney tumor removed in 2016, and her granddaughter was diagnosed with kidney nephritis in 2013. The illness of her year-old granddaughter was what motivated her to say "no more" and start researching water pollution issues, she told the Star in an April 2017 article about the new round of claims.

Another claimant profiled in the most recent Star article, Carmen "Roxie" Castillo, was also motivated by the death of a friend. While she has suffered from lupus, kidney disease, migraines, chronic pain and other conditions since 1992, she finally decided to take action when her 48-year-old friend Michelle Gutierrez died of brain cancer in 2016, she told the Star.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed unsafe levels of TCE in South Tucson wells in 1981. The contaminated wells were closed in the 1980s, and the city began treating the affected water in 1994. In addition to TCE, the current round of claims also focuses on 1,4-dioxane, another solvent which was discovered in Tucson's water in 2002, the Star reported.

However, Tony Roisman, a lawyer who represented Tucson residents in the earlier round of suits, said that if the current claims develop into a lawsuit, the residents might have a harder time proving their illnesses are a result of the pollution. Since more time has passed, illness could be attributed to age, he told the Star.

While the dioxane was found in the water much more recently, Roisman said in the April 2017 Star article that it is harder to link to cancers than TCE, since the former has only been found to cause cancer in animals and is listed by the federal government as a "probable carcinogen." TCE is listed as a known carcinogen and has been linked to cancer in human studies as well.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less