Why the EPA Is Allowing Contaminated Groundwater to Go Untreated

The remains of the George Air Force Base on the edge of California’s Mojave Desert are little more than a dusty sprawl of squat buildings, their roofs riddled with holes, their hinged windows flapping open and shut in the dry wind.

The George H.W. Bush administration decommissioned the base in 1992, but this crumbling ghost town carries a worrisome legacy—a stew of toxic waste that has been the target of a federal cleanup, which is still under way after two decades of work and more than $100 million in spending.

At George, as at many other military bases, chemicals and jet fuel were leaked or haphazardly disposed of for years, polluting hundreds of acres of groundwater. Trichloroethylene, a cancer-causing solvent, has contaminated two aquifers underneath the base and threatens a third aquifer, as well as the Mojave River. It has also tainted monitoring wells at a nearby wastewater reclamation plant and forced workers there to drink bottled water as a precaution.