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Jet fuel has contaminated soil and shallow groundwater at Hill Air Force Base, and technicians are scheduled to take soil samples this month to discover the problem's extent.

The fuel apparently leaked from an underground storage tank near Building 870, about a quarter-mile east of the base's southwest gate, said Hill spokeswoman Marilu Trainor.Environmental experts think the area of contamination might reach the nearby Patriot Hills housing area, across the street from the fuel storage area.

Using probes to detect fuel vapor in the soil, experts will sample about 40 locations. They will check for fuel near the base's Sixth Street and near Minuteman Street in the Patriot Hills area.

Col. Steven Emory, base commander, sent letters this week to about 50 residences in Patriot Hills saying, "While it is highly doubtful that there is any health risk to anyone, we are taking these measures as a precaution."

Emory added that Hill's policy would be to err on the side of caution rather than ignore or overlook even the smallest risk.

The polluted groundwater is about 21 feet below the surface and is not used for drinking water or irrigation.

Andrew Gemperline, Hill's underground storage tank manager, said residents will be notified immediately if any hazard is found. "Our first priority is to protect people," he said.

Hill officials doubt the contamination has migrated off-base but pledge they will inform outside residents immediately if they find it has.

The contamination was discovered when workers replaced the underground storage tank. A monitoring well and soil borings confirmed that the tank had leaked.