TUCSON, Ariz. — More than 1,350 residents on Tucson’s south side have filed formal claims with the U.S. Air Force in the past year, claiming pollution left behind from its plants and other industries is causing cancer and other illnesses in their community.

Details of most of the claims aren’t immediately available, the Arizona Daily Star reported . But more than a half-dozen residents who filed claims told the Arizona Daily Star last week that they believe contaminated drinking water and possible other exposures to pollution left them with various cancers, heart ailments, autoimmune diseases such as lupus and other health problems. Such claims are often precursors to future lawsuits.

The Air Force has not decided on any claim and has no timetable for any decision, spokesman Mark Kinkade said.

It has been at least 70 years since Air Force contractors and other industries started dumping solvents and other industrial wastes into the ground near Tucson International Airport.

It has been more than 35 years since authorities first discovered trichloroethylene and other chemicals in the south side’s groundwater west of the airport, and at least seven city wells were shut down.

And it has been almost 27 years since the first of several settlements totaling well over $100 million was reached between several companies and government agencies and hundreds of south-siders who said they got cancer and other ailments from drinking the polluted water.

The latest claims are from residents who said they either weren’t ill when the original trichloroethylene lawsuits were filed, or didn’t know about the earlier lawsuits until it was too late to join them, said Linda Robles, a community activist who has spearheaded the filing of new claims.

Tucson Water officials have repeatedly said that no contaminated water has been served to the south-side areas since trichloroethylene-tainted wells were closed in the 1980s, but many residents have said they don’t believe that.

Cleanup of the trichloroethylene from the water started at a city-run treatment plant in 1994. A second treatment plant was built in 2014 to remove dioxane. The underground pollution plume has noticeably shrunk although authorities say they still don’t know when the cleanup will be finished.

There has never been a full-scale epidemiological study of potential links between cancer, other illnesses and pollution on the south side. Arizona’s state-run cancer registry has not found any unusual number of total cancers on the south side.


Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.tucson.com