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DDT sampling around Kelly to continue after federal settlement

Greg Harman

Hundreds of San Antonio residents who sued the U.S. Air Force over toxic contamination impacting their homes will soon be sharing in $1,000 slices of federal settlement gains. Yet, the mystery of elevated cancers and other health complaints around the former military base remains รข?? as do toxics in the community.

A state fishing advisory has been expanded on the Lower Leon Creek, which winds past the base's western boundary. And recent sampling found the infamous pesticide DDT in the water and sediment at levels expected to cause damage to aquatic life there.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a researcher from Texas A&M's Health Science Center will be sampling soils at 10 homes in the Kelly area this fall for DDT. Associate Professor Thomas McDonald says he is studying an array of issues across South Texas for his report Border Environmental Health and Toxicological Education Research Programs, and plans to complete the Kelly-area work begun by his former boss, K.C. Donnelly, who died of cancer of the esophagus last summer.

Robert Alvarado has long been a fixture at meetings about the toxic contaminants discovered to be spreading under area homes in the 1990s. Today he is waiting for a new kidney and thinking about funeral expenses. While he once thought he could see justice for affected residents in his lifetime, he now hopes that his death will bring clarity to the debate.

“Even if I'm gone, I still want to leave something behind. People can read why I felt `this` about my sickness,” he said. “I think it's going to continue until somebody really gets sick and winds up in the middle of the creek dying from this contamination.”

The Air Force's settlement, announced last week, is not for alleged health impacts affecting residents but a violation of the homeowners' property-rights by the underground plume. About 400 residents will be paid roughly $1,300, depending on their property value.