reviewed thousands of pages of documents, interviewed nearly two dozen veterans and consulted with military, medical and environmental scientists when investigating the link between toxic substances in the California Fort Horde and the illnesses of those who lived and worked there.
The main conclusions of the AP investigation:
– The Fort Horde, a decommissioned U.S. Army base in Central California, was contaminated with toxic chemicals that were washed into groundwater and eventually into the base’s drinking water. Some veterans who served there decades ago want to know if exposure to these chemicals could be a major cause of serious health problems, including rare blood cancers.
– The military denies, based on a 25-year risk assessment of public health. The CDC Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded in 1996 that there were no possible past, present, or future risks from exposure to the base. Since then, research into the dangers of these chemicals has advanced. For example, trichlorethylene, also known as the miraculous degreaser TCE, is now a known human carcinogen, and epidemiological studies suggest a link between THE and blood cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
– TCE was among dozens of pollutants that scientists discovered back in 1985, and today still exists in concentrations exceeding the allowable limit for drinking water in the aquifer below the Fort Horde, according to local and federal water quality reports. Local water officials say drinking water is now being taken from other areas and treated before delivery to customers.
– The U.S. military knew that TCE and other toxic chemicals had been improperly dumped into the Fort Horde for decades, an AP review of public documents showed. However, the army reduced health risks, documents show. According to a 1985 military memo, contractors involved in groundwater treatment were warned not to tell community members, the media or local government agencies what they found in their drinking water.
– There is rarely a way to directly link the toxic effects to the health of a particular person. Local utilities, the Department of Defense and some of the Department of Veterans Affairs insist that the water in the Fort Horde has always been safe. But VA’s own website on exposure to hazardous materials along with scientists and doctors agree that there is generally a danger to servicemen who are potentially exposed to contaminants.
– The Department of Defense does not systematically monitor the accumulated chemical exposure of servicemen moving from a contaminated base to a contaminated one. A comprehensive epidemiological study to determine whether veterans are sick from the service, VA did not conduct.
– Not only Fort Horde veterans ask whether the service is sick. This is happening almost everywhere the military has stepped in, and the federal government is still learning about the extent of the pollution and the health impact of its toxic heritage.
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