What Lies Beneath: Key AP Survey Findings | Radio WGN 720

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The Associated Press reviewed thousands of pages of documents, interviewed nearly two dozen veterans and consulted with military, medical and environmental scientists as it investigated the link between toxic substances at Fort Ord in California and the diseases among those who lived and worked there.

Key findings from the AP survey:

— Fort Ord, a disused US Army base in central California, was polluted with toxic chemicals that seeped 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 cause serious health problems, including rare blood cancers.

— The military says no, based on a 25-year-old public health risk assessment. The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded in 1996 that there was no probable past, present, or future risk of exposure to the base. Since then, research into the dangers of these chemicals has progressed. Trichlorethylene, also known as the miracle degreaser TCE, for example, is now a known human carcinogen, and epidemiological studies point to a link between TCE and blood cancers like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

– TCE was among dozens of pollutants scientists discovered as early as 1985 that still exist today at concentrations above the legal limit for drinking water in the aquifer beneath Fort Ord, according to local and federal reports on water quality. Local water officials say drinking water is now extracted from other areas and treated before being delivered to customers.

– The U.S. military knew TCE and other toxic chemicals had been improperly dumped at Fort Ord for decades, an AP review of public records found. Still, the military played down the health risks, documents show. According to a 1985 military memo, contractors brought in to clean up groundwater were warned not to tell community members, the media, or local state agencies what they found in their drinking water.

— There is rarely a way to directly relate toxic exposure to the health status of a specific individual. Local utilities, the Department of Defense and some members of the Department of Veterans Affairs insist that the water in Fort Ord has always been safe. But the VA’s Hazardous Materials Exposure website, as well as scientists and doctors, agree that in general, hazards exist for military personnel potentially exposed to contaminants.

– The Department of Defense has not systematically tracked the accumulated chemical exposures of service members moving from contaminated base to contaminated base. And the VA hasn’t done comprehensive epidemiological studies to determine whether veterans get sick from their service.

“Fort Ord veterans aren’t the only ones wondering if their service has made them sick. It happens almost everywhere the military has set foot, and the federal government is still learning the extent of the pollution and health effects of its toxic legacy.

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