POISONED PATRIOTS OF FT McCLELLAN
by Elizabeth R. Dilts
SURVIVING FORT McCLELLAN...OR DID THEY? In dramatic war movies, there is frequently a scene in which a soldier fights valiantly in a firefight, gets back to safety with his buddies, and then sadly realizes that he received a fatal wound at the beginning of the battle and just didn’t know it.Such is the plight of every man, woman and child that ever set foot on Ft. McClellan between 1935 and 1999. Each of these people was exposed to a dangerous soup of deadly, toxic chemicals and radiation. They were unknowingly "wounded" when they arrived at Ft. McClellan and only time will tell the extent and severity of those injuries. As the years go by, more and more people who lived or worked at Ft. McClellan realize that they were injured by toxic exposure long ago, some of them mortally, and just never knew it.The chemical and radiation exposure suffered by these people causes a wide variety of diseases to include cancer, endocrine disorders, autoimmune diseases, blood disorders, parathyroid tumors, thyroid disease, uterine and ovary growth necessitating hysterectomies, neurological problems, diabetes, and undiagnosed illnesses of "unknown origin". That term is particularly interesting since the reason the origin is unknown to the sick and dying is that the government is refusing to inform the veterans of their exposure to dangerous toxins even though the facts are proven by the government’s own studies. Worse yet, many veterans are denied treatment by the V.A. for the very diseases their exposure at Ft. McClellan caused.
Ft. McClellan was so contaminated that the combination of these toxins has never before been seen in history. The veterans and their families that have thus far survived their toxic exposure at Ft. McClellan but are unsuspecting, continuing lab experiments because they do not yet know of their exposure, and the resulting disease processes are varied but rampant.
How bad was the exposure? Ft. McClellan had radiation levels that exceeded the acceptable limits of Sr90, Co-60, and Cs137, and not by small amounts. The Co-60 alone "was more than 7 million times"1 the allowable limit for public use until January 1985 when the military finally "located" the "lost" isotope that had been there for years and recovered it. Take a moment to think about that. Ft. McClellan mishandled military radiation and a search had to be conducted to find it years later. The "unlocated" radiation resulted in Ft. McClellan having Co-60 in unrestricted areas at SEVEN MILLION TIMES the allowable level for public use and the veterans, and their families were exposed to this for years. Upon this fact coming to light, the military did not notify the veterans and their families of their exposure nor did they provide medical testing or decontamination procedures. Instead, the government decided to do something entirely different: Absolutely nothing.
In April, 1997, even after years of remediation and removing truck loads of contaminated soil, concrete, and other material the"highest soil surface sample Co-60 activity result...was...41 times the release criteria" and the highest surface soil sample of Cs137 activity was still 11 times the release criteria. The government’s own studies state that after a minimum of 12 years of cleanup and decontamination of Ft. McClellan, the dangerous radiation of Co60 and Cs137 were still well above acceptable release criteria for public use. Yet, if you were at the base during any of that time, you would have heard the call of cadence in the distance as soldiers ran by in formation, and children playing outside, because no one told these soldiers or their families about the dangerous radiation or toxins in the water, air and soil.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission became actively involved in December 20012 and found that the military possessed radioactive substances in excess of that allowed by their licenses (because some got lost, and some got buried). The U.S. Army was cited for three (3) violations regarding mishandling radioactive material. In one instance, the military was found to have literally buried a radioactive isotope in a dirt mound in an unrestricted area. 3
After finding the violations regarding radioactive material, The NRC issued a new possession license for the nuclear material and basically instructed the military to find all of the contaminated material and clean it up. Interestingly, the people that were designated to decontaminate the radiation had procedures, radiation exposure badges, special equipment, and followup tests to ensure their contamination did not exceed acceptable levels. The veterans and their families who have yet to even be told they were exposed to these toxins have never been given medical tests or afforded treatment for any exposure.
The unholy trinity of radiation was just the beginning for these veterans though, because the water was also severely contaminated at an unprecedented level. When groundwater samples were analyzed at Ft. McClellan, Alabama for the study that was published in 1998, it was discovered that even after years of cleanup efforts, "the metals which were detected above EPA drinking water MCLs were aluminum, iron, lead, and manganese. The chlorinated compounds include chlorobenzene, 1-1 dichloroethane, 1,2 dichloroethene, tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene, 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane, and pentachlorophenol. Pesticide related compounds detected in low concentrations include endodulfans I and II, alpha/delta-BHC, heptachor, isodrin, 4,4,-DDD, 4,4-DDE, and 4,4-DDT. The compound related to explosives found in the groundwater was 1,3,5,- trinitrobenzene. Other compounds detected include bis (2-ethylhexl)phthalate, benzo(a)anthracene, and chrysene (SAIC 1993 and 1995a)"4
There were numerous isolated incidents of water contamination at Ft. McClellan such as in November, 1984 when Boiler Plant #2 discharged 500 gallons of post alkaline post boil solution into Cane Creek creating a pH range of 10.9-12.0 and killed all of the fish for at least 1.5 miles downstream. Interestingly, this was the same area where the Military Police School would bivouac during training, to include filling canteens and washing off in the stream. Once again, no warnings issued for the veterans who interacted with this stream during a clearly peak toxic time. There were also reported incidents of tanks being washed in the streams with residues consisting of everything from Agent Orange to solvents and munitions components. No one was warned to stay away from the streams and the toxins became part of the environment.
There were also long term contaminations such as those caused by Monsanto. Since Monsanto had been causing the water, air and soil to become toxic for decades with improper disposal of chemicals and PCBs, the residents of Ft. McClellan and the town of Anniston had even more unknown exposure to additional toxins. The exposure to those toxins began in the 1960s and continue to be "remediated" even today. In an ironic twist of fate, Ft. McClellan did stop using some of its own contaminated wells and switched to City of Anniston water which was polluted with toxins so potent that they had one of the highest childhood cancer rates in America and the area was named by "60 Minutes" as one of the most toxic places in the country.
In 1966, in an effort to negate its culpability for polluting the local water, Monsanto hired a Biologist to conduct a study of streams in Anniston, AL (just outside of Ft. McClellan). Unfortunately for Monsanto, the findings of the study were that the water was extremely polluted and dangerous. The Biologist placed 25 Bluegill fish into one of the streams.3 He reported to Monsanto that the fish became disoriented within 10 seconds and died within 3 ½ minutes. Another of the biologists reported that it was like "dunking the fish in battery acid". The fish spurted blood and shed their skin as though being placed in boiling water.4 Yet another biologist said, "The skin would literally slough off." (Quoting excerpt from Washington Post) Sometime thereafter, a dog drank from the stream and died (for the dog lovers, he wasn’t part of the study – just an incidental occurrence that was reported). Since this was a Monsanto sponsored study, the results were not made public and Monsanto continued business as usual.
As a result of decades of hiding that toxic environmental impact, and the deadly impact on the citizens in the community, a lawsuit was filed against Monsanto, securing a 700 million dollar judgment for the citizens of Anniston, but excluding the veterans, DoD workers, and the families. It was presumed that the Military would notify the veterans and take care of their own people. Clearly, to date no notifications have been made and certainly no treatment.
Much like a late night infomercial, I am forced to write, "But wait, there’s more". In addition to all of the above the government’s studies prove that there were also significant levels of Sulfur Mustard, Distilled Mustard, VX, Sarin, and Lewsite. Statements obtained from credible witnesses during the government investigations are too numerous to list, but include such things as, Mr. Pilcher stated that "in 1982 and 1983 his class alone placed several hundred gallons of thickened fuel into unlined ditches", Brad Perkins, Directorate of the Environment (DOE) testified that Lewsite was used alongside HD (Mustard Gas) at Ft. McClellan,5 are among the most frequent types of statements contained in the investigation.
It is simply inhumane and unconscionable that our government is refusing to advise these veterans of their exposure or to render medical treatment when they know from their own studies that the illnesses from which the veterans suffer were caused by their toxic exposure at Ft. McClellan.
There is proposed legislation currently languishing in the House for the 3rd year in a row- HR411, The Ft. McClellan Health Registry Act. I respectfully ask that you take the time to read this bill and support it. If passed, it would require the Veterans Administration to keep a registry of these veterans and advise them of their exposure. If they have a toxic exposure related illness as a result of being at Ft. McClellan, the veterans would be entitled to treatment.
None of this addresses the families of the veterans or the children born with rare cancers, so the final numbers of the wounded or dead as a result of this toxic exposure will be tallied for years to come. If you know someone that trained or lived at Ft. McClellan, let them know they have been exposed and may have unrealized "wounds" from their time in service. Knowledge is power and with treatment they might have a chance to survive Ft. McClellan.