SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — Two California congressmen are calling on the federal government to investigate whether there is evidence that potentially toxic and contaminated drinking water in Fort Ord may be linked to specific cancers and others diseases.
“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to our service members and their families,” Reps. Katie Porter and Jimmy Panetta said in a letter to the director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “By conducting a new study in Fort Ord, we can ensure those injured while serving our country receive the medical care they need.”
The request follows an Associated Press report earlier this week about hundreds of people who lived and served near the army base and who fear their health problems are linked to chemicals there. .
In 1990, four years before the closure process began as an active military training base, Fort Ord was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the country. This pollution included dozens of chemicals, some now known to cause cancer, found in the base’s drinking water and soil.
The AP interviewed nearly two dozen of these veterans and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, and interviewed military, medical and environmental scientists.
Rarely is there a way to directly relate toxic exposure to a specific individual’s health status. Indeed, the concentrations of the toxins are minute, measured in parts per billion or trillion, well below the levels of immediate poisoning. Local utilities, the Department of Defense and some members of the Department of Veterans Affairs insist that the water in Fort Ord is safe and always has been. But the VA’s Hazardous Materials Exposure website, as well as scientists and doctors, agree that dangers exist for military personnel exposed to contaminants.
Responding to the AP report, a spokesman for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said its chairman, Montana Democrat Jon Tester, believes “the VA should take this seriously and any potential toxic exposure among our servicemen and women, and continue to work to provide fresh insight into the possibility of toxic exposures at Fort Ord that could adversely affect the health of veterans.
The problem isn’t just in Fort Ord. This is happening all over the United States and abroad, almost anywhere the military has set foot, and the federal government is still learning the extent of the pollution and health effects of its toxic legacy.
AP found the military knew chemicals had been improperly dumped at Fort Ord for decades. Even after the contamination was documented, the military downplayed the risks.
And sick veterans are being denied benefits based on a 25-year-old health assessment, which Porter and Panetta Friday say needs an update. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded in 1996 that there was no probable past, present, or future risk of exposure at Fort Ord.
But this conclusion was made based on limited data and before medical science understood the relationship between some of these chemicals and cancer.
Congress this month weighed legislation that would recognize some potential health effects of certain military toxic exposures, particularly combustion fireplaces. And the Wounded Warrior Project has released the results of a survey of approximately 18,000 registered members which found that 98% of injured veterans said they were exposed to dangerous or toxic substances during military service.