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Dec-29-2008 20:11printcomments

Veterans `Kept in the Dark`

The Defense Department does not notify veterans of military Superfund sites of contaminants and the health effects of exposure to them. However, after several deaths from TCE contaminated well water, legislation required the Navy and Marine Corps to contact veterans of Camp Lejeune regarding the TCE contamination of base wells.

Images of El Toro last summer by Tim King
Images of El Toro last summer by Tim King

(SOMERDALE, N.J.) - Congress established the Superfund program in 1980 to clean up the country's most contaminated places. The Defense Department owns 133 EPA Superfund sites, the most of any entity.

Millions of Americans live near military Superfund sites. A June 12th, 2006, statement from Representative Bart Stupak, House Energy and Commerce Committee noted: “Nearly one out of ten Americans live within 10 miles of a military site listed on the Superfund National Priority List for hazardous waste cleanup.

The American people, military and civilian alike, deserve to work and live in communities where drinking the water and breathing the air do not threaten their lives.” (See:

If you’re one of the those 30 million Americans living near a military Superfund site, U.S. Representative Stupak’s assessment of DOD’s approach to sound environmental practices is not comforting:

“Tetrachloroethylene or TCE is the most widespread water contaminant in the nation, and almost every major military base has a Superfund site with TCE contamination. Nevertheless, this obstruction of environmental prerogatives has been the modus operandi of the Defense Department for years now – since at least 2001, the Pentagon has sidetracked environmental regulations, opposed EPA efforts to set stricter pollution limits, stalled and under funded cleanups, and ignored federal and state environmental regulators.” (See:

Eighteen military bases make up 20% of California’s Superfund sites. This list includes: Alameda Naval Air Station, Treasure Island Naval Station, Edwards Air Force Base, Castle Air Force Base, Fort Ord, March Air Force Base, Barstow Marine Corps Logistics Base, Moffett Naval Air Station, and MCAS El Toro. (See:

Veterans are not the only ones at risk for exposure to contaminants. Dependents are vulnerable, too. The California Birth Defects Monitoring Program (CBDMP) is a public health program devoted to finding causes of birth defects is funded through the California Department of Health Services.

DBCMP reported that: “Women who lived within 1/4 mile of a Superfund site during the first 3 months of pregnancy had a greater risk of having babies with certain birth defects: Conotruncal heart defects, a group of serious heart defects, were 4 times as likely (increasing from 1/1000 to 1/250 babies.) Neural tube defects -spina bifida and anencephaly-were 2 times as likely (increasing from 1/1000 to 11500 babies.) Cleft lip and cleft palate occurred no more frequently than expected. Women who lived farther than 1/4 mile from sites were not at higher risk.” (See:

Imagine for a moment that you’re one of the millions of veterans who served at a base now on the EPA Superfund list. Like many veterans you now live far from your former military base, don’t have access to the internet, have no contacts with former military friends, may be seriously ill, and unable to “connect the dots” of your illness to military service. In fact, you may have been separated from the military for years and have no clue that your illness is related to military service.

Unlike someone injured on the job from exposure to contaminants, there’s no workman compensation for a veteran to cover his or her medical expenses or even the possibility of filing a tort lawsuit for injuries. Based on a Supreme Court decision, veterans cannot file a lawsuit against the government.

Assuming that you are aware of the connection of your illness to military service, you can file a disability claim with the VA. The catch is that a successful claim requires medical evidence of injury and a nexus statement which links the injury to military service.

For example, a doctor’s opinion that your injury is “at least as likely as not” to be related to military service may serve as a creditable nexus statement. The VA disability process may take years to settle. A 100% disabled, unmarried veteran without any dependents receives $2,673 per month or $32,112 per year.

Knowing that an illness is related to military services may be helpful to a veteran’s doctors. It may provide some comfort knowing the cause of an illness, even if there’s no magic pill for a cure.

However, it appears that the government has little interest in spreading the bad news about military Superfund sites. For one, military recruitment may suffer. While military service in time of war is a duty for every able bodied citizens, even the more zealous patriots may hesitant to volunteer if the environment pollution risks are known. Purple Hearts are not awarded for death from toxic chemicals.

An injured dependent or civilian worker may file a tort suit. There is no monetary limit under the Federal Tort Claim Act.

Unlike veterans, dependents and civilian workers are not barred from filing a tort claim for injuries. At Camp Lejeune, the site of PCE contamination from an off base dry cleaner, a number of claims have been filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). PCE and TCE are similar components. A number of the military Superfund sites are also contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE).

MCAS El Toro used TCE to degrease aircraft parts. In one hangar on the base, 55 gallon drums of TCE were dumped into a heated vat. Aircraft parts were lowered in a basket into the vat.

Following acceptable industrial practices at the time, TCE waste was dumped into storm drains. Inevitably some of the waste wound up in the soil and groundwater. At El Toro, a TCE toxic plume was discovered in 1985, the base closed in 1999 and most of the land sold in 2005 to Lennar Corporation of Miami, Florida.

At El Toro, veterans and dependents reported cancer and other illnesses linked to TCE/PCE and radionuclides. Also Radium 226 was used to paint aircraft instruments, mixed with other chemicals to produce a fluorescent paint. Some of the florescent paint wound up in landfills and eventually the groundwater.

Exposure to these contaminants can occur through ingestion (drinking contaminated water), dermal contact, and inhalation. There’s no evidence to suggest that the municipal water at El Toro was ever contaminated. The water from the base wells is another story.

El Toro base wells are now abandoned and sealed. Millions were spent by the Navy for municipal water. There’s no explanation from the Navy for the purchase of municipal water. The Navy was unable to locate the contract files. The government’s municipal water contract files from 1951 and 1969 may have been destroyed. Navy regulations only required that the contract files be retained for 6 years and 3 months after final payment.

The Navy and EPA estimated 8,000 pounds of mostly TCE in the soil and groundwater under the highly industrialized portion of the base. The City of Irvine's consultant estimated 700,000 pounds of TCE in the same area. The Navy disputes the Irvine estimate. There is no dispute that the TCE plume went through the area of the base wells.

The Navy was unable to find the municipal water service contracts and technical supporting documentation so the reasons for abandoning the wells are unknown. One possibility is that total dissolved solids ("salts") >1,000 mg/L in the shallow aquifer may have caused service disruptions, forcing the purchase of municipal water and the eventual abandonment of the wells.

Despite the Navy’s lack of concern, the risk of exposure to TCE/PCE in the drinking water is evident from the corrosion in the well casings found before their destruction, placement of well screens in the contaminated aquifer, and the levels of TCE/PCE found in the shallow aquifer. (See: Salem-News article by Dr. Phil Leveque: 'A Few Good Men, Lots of Chemicals')

In November 2008, El Toro Marine veterans started a petition to require the Defense Department to notify El Toro veterans and other veterans of military bases classified as EPA Superfund sites of the risk of exposure to contaminants and their health effects. (See: and Salem-News article by Tim King: TCE Expert Talks With Former El Toro Marine About Toxic Waste (VIDEO))

There's no reason why veterans of Superfund sites should not be notified of the risk of exposure to contaminants and their health effects. Realistically, it appears that such action will require Congressional legislation or an Executive Order.

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Leo K. Reed January 15, 2009 7:41 pm (Pacific time)

Wow. I have been pursuing this for many years. But this could add up to a multi-Trillian Dollar settlement over all. I have known for about 5 years now that my ailments were indeed from TCE or TriChloroEthylene - and there are many. Is this perhaps why Cheney with held this and fired the EPA upon taking office and diverting Trillion dollar expenses to the other side of the world?

Leo K. Reed January 15, 2009 8:29 pm (Pacific time)

I noticed the TCE = PCE confusion right away ... having much college and having worked with both ... in the service for 4 years VN war days ... and was NCOIC of TTY dept maintenance with at least 1 million parts per billion parts of clean air. We could see, smell, and feel the TCE fog in the air everyday all day. Demyelination of the nerve cells ... indeed the whole CNS causes a wide array of diseases ... depression ... non hodgkins lymphoma but the confusion of trying to tag it cancerous is irrelevant though still true anyway ... BECAUSE: it is bad enough and more to have it a major CNS (or Central Nervous System)which includes from Brain to Toes ... "pealing the fatty skin layer off the nerves" does exactly what is described in many diseases including AIDS (though I do not have that nor intend to try getting it) and my doctors did major tests when I had liver failure, Stroke, arythmic heart, (not to mention the 2 dozen simpler discomforts ongoing like melanomas, depression and other already missing soft organs like appendix and gall blader. AIDS simularly has the same effective pains (I only know from being a scientist both at heart and at knowledge gained in 65 years. There are dozens of diseases now unknown as to cause that will soon suddenly discover that TCE has been their cause all along. Just look how TCE is used to process Dry Ceral, cattle butchering and Mad Cow disease and process chicken and pig feed and MSG in our foods and Sodium Benzoate in our soft drinks (but if you have been dowsed with TCE ongoing ... you will be getting "degreaser flush" skin and headaches but not knowing why. Tryptophan and hydrogenated margerine and butter and many other foods will just cause you pains. I would not be supprised to find that TCE is used in 30% of our foods. It is literally everywhere ... as Erin Brokavitch discovered and John Travolta's "A Civil Action" though very hard to out spend Dick Cheney's effort to coverup SuperFundSites from public attention. Anyone knowing how to use the internet can find billions of pages crossconnecting these cause and effects like "TCE and abc" You will get so much data you will not digest all of it in one life time. I now have around 2000 articles on the subjects saved and have not scratched the surface.

Van January 11, 2009 9:19 am (Pacific time)

In 1987 the amount of TCE allowed in water was 5ppb. Before that the acceptable level was 270ppb per DoD. TCE is the number one problem for our military bases worldwide. The worst offenders are the air bases. TCE is used in a wide array base operations. The one that has left us with a legacy of severe contamination was the use of TCE as a decontamination or cleanup tool on our airplanes. For instance. Andersen AFB, Guam was where most of our sorties were flown from against Viet Nam. When a B52 comes back from a sortie it is taken to it's revetment and TCE'd with a mixture of TCE and water. All of this was going into the aquifer under Andersen from the drainage systems. After the B52 leaves for it's sortie the revetment is then TCE'd again, all of which ends up in the aquifer and on the ground. All military aircraft are cleaned in this way. When I was on Guam you could taste see and smell a solvent in the water.(Andersen AFB sits atop the sole-source drinking water aquifer of Guam) ATSDR has said for me to be able to taste, see or smell TCE in water it would have to have been at least 1,000,000ppb. That is 200,000 times what is allowed today. Guam is the worst case scenario I have been able to find but many of our bases have this problem but to a lesser degree. Hearings before congress in Nov. 1987 on the worst of the worst for TCE had 6 military installations contaminating the environment of Guam. Kelley and Tinker were also a part of these hearings.

Robert O'Dowd December 30, 2008 8:50 am (Pacific time)

An email from Carol Hossom, ATSDR scientist, noted a common error in Representative Bart Supak's statement quoted in this news story: "I have a minor comment regarding clarification about something that is written in the article. In the article, it is states…. “Tetrachloroethylene or TCE is the most widespread water contaminant in the nation, and almost every major military base has a Superfund site with TCE contamination.” I completely agree with this below… “TCE is the most widespread water contaminant in the nation, and almost every major military base has a Superfund site with TCE contamination.” However, TCE is actually trichloroethylene, PCE is tetrachloroethylene. This has been misreported in some of the Camp Lejeune reports that we have had to go back and carefully sift through. Below is FYI. I share this because of my fascination with the chemistry and the history that I have uncovered during my investigations and thought that you might also find it informative. However, I in no way intend to insult or belittle the reader. From what I have learned…. historically, there have been common names for chemicals and like anything else in our culture we abbreviate names and assign abbreviations to things. The acronym PCE is from the common name of the chemical perchloroethylene. The prefix “per” commonly meant “four” referring to the 4 chlorines on the molecule. When the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) developed the accepted system of naming chemicals, the “per” prefix was changed to “tetra” also meaning four. So perchloroethylene became also known as tetrachloroethylene. In many reports I have read, the abbreviation TCE has actually been meaning tetrachloroethylene and not the trichloroethylene chemical. It is clear in the reports from the lab and when spelled out, but sometimes mis-interpreted in summary reports. Both chemicals are common at military bases, but TCE was used in tremendous quantities compared to PCE... Thanks for all that you are and all that you do."

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