2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 7 Jul 2003 14:31:38 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] There's No Base Like Home
There's No Base Like Home
Is contaminated housing poisoning military families?
by Justin Scheck
03 Jul 2003

Karen Strand was six in 1958 when her father, a Marine Corps chaplain,
was transferred to the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina. It
wasn't until 2000 that she made the connection between her ongoing
health problems -- a bleeding ulcer at 19, thyroid and parathyroid
problems, depression, and cysts and tumors that necessitated a complete
hysterectomy -- and the chemical-smelling water she drank and bathed in
at the base for 13 years.

Strand and her two sisters, who have also had hysterectomies, assumed
they were the victims of bad luck until three years ago, when they saw a
CNN show in which representatives of the Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry asked women who carried pregnancies at Camp Lejeune to
come forward for a study on the health of their children. Until 1985,
the ATSDR officials said, Camp Lejeune residents drank water laced with
high levels of the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), used in military
operations. TCE is known to cause cancer, autoimmune disorders, birth
defects, and nervous-system problems.

Strand, who now owns a day spa in North Carolina with her husband,
decided to take action. In 2001, she and her sisters formed a group
called Toxic Homefront Empowered Survivors Take All Necessary Defense
(THE STAND). They set up a website last fall, and have since had more
than 200 former Camp Lejeune residents come forward to report health
problems ranging from anxiety disorder to muscle deterioration to

While these residents blame their health problems on TCE, the truth is
that no formal inquiry has been made of the residents, their exposures,
and their ailments, with the exception of the one ongoing ATSDR study.
An update of the study's progress is set to be released on July 16;
according to spokesperson Scott Mall, research so far "shows birth
defects and childhood cancers" among those who were exposed. Mall would
not say whether these occurred at higher than normal rates, but said,
"there was enough evidence of an issue ... that we will continue the
study." ATSDR plans to complete a more comprehensive study by 2005.

Still, even the completed study will reveal findings only about fetuses;
there has been no effort to assess the consequences of generations of
Camp Lejeune residents unknowingly ingesting poisoned tap water. THE
STAND hopes to change that. The group is working to compile a list of
victims and is pushing the military to provide medical services to the
thousands of affected families.

THE STAND bears the distinction of being the lone group in the U.S.
organized around the issue of toxic pollution in military housing. But
although the organization is unique, the problem it is addressing is
not. Hazardous materials are found in many -- some say most -- military
housing areas. Trichloroethylene is a common contaminant; others range
from the mundane (the lead paint and asbestos frequently found in aging
homes) to the exotic (unexploded ammunition, radioactive waste, and
heavy metals).

Yet despite the prevalence of toxins, no government agency or
environmental group has studied the risks routinely incurred by military
families. No one has compiled an inventory, list, or database of
contaminated housing sites. Neither the U.S. EPA nor the military nor
the numerous nonprofit organizations that specialize in military
environmental issues has taken up the cause of military families that,
despite the national exhortation to "support our troops," are routinely
exposed to contamination in their homes.

Complicating matters is the fact that many military families are less
like Strand's (which spent more than a dozen years drinking contaminated
water in a single area) and more like that of Lita Hyland, another
member of THE STAND. Hyland spent the first few months of her pregnancy
in 1978 at Camp Lejeune with her husband, a Marine. After her daughter
was born, the family was moved to Marine housing at Camp Pendleton, near
San Diego, Calif. Next they moved to military housing on Treasure Island
in the San Francisco Bay.

Although it is the contamination at Lejeune that has mobilized Hyland
(and that she blames for her daughter's seizures and Crohn's disease),
records from the EPA and ATSDR show that the housing areas at both
Pendleton and Treasure Island are contaminated with heavy metals. In a
May interview, Hyland said she was unaware that Pendleton and Treasure
Island are polluted. "I never expected this from the American
government," she said.

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