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July 28, 2014
McClellan Chemical Training

Charting a reputation Group seeks health registry for Fort McClellan soldiers

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Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2014 8:00 pm | Updated: 3:32 pm, Tue Jun 24, 2014.

After Diane Zumatto finished her basic training at Fort McClellan in 1976, she completed her enlisted service and started a family in Thurston County, Wash.

In 1984, Zumatto’s first daughter was born with hip dysplasia, a congenital misalignment of the hip joint.  She has long wondered if it’s connected to her service at the post. Zumatto hopes the federal government will set up a registry to track the health issues of troops who spent time at the base.

“I don’t know if any exposure to anything at Fort McClellan caused it, which is why we need some kind of registry to chart those who have been through,” she said.

Zumatto is part of a far-flung network of former Fort McClellan soldiers who are alarmed by stories of pollution both on and off base in Anniston. The campaign has drawn in lawmakers from across the country, but hasn’t stirred local politicians.

“The first step is to identify service-connected illnesses McClellan vets may have received during their time of service,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y. “We have more questions than answers at this point, which makes a registry necessary so that the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs can determine if care is necessary.”  

Tonko is the primary sponsor of H.R. 411, also known as the Fort McClellan Health Registry Act. The bill would require a database be made of all soldiers who came through Fort McClellan from Jan. 1, 1935, to May 20, 1999. Also, all living parties would be notified that they may have been exposed to toxins, including polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

That’s likely a reference to the PCB contamination from the site in western Anniston where Monsanto manufactured PCBs, now known to be a health hazard, for 40 years. Contamination of the soil and groundwater around the plant became the subject of a $700 million settlement and a massive cleanup. That contamination, plus the massive stockpile of chemical weapons the military once maintained at Anniston Army Depot — now all destroyed in an incinerator — gave Anniston a polluted reputation.

Army officials say PCB contamination wasn’t an issue at the fort, 13 miles from Monsanto, where most trainees would have lived.

“The issues in the health registry seem to refer to PCBs and we haven’t found that on Fort McClellan because we just did not use that kind of stuff,” said Thomas Lederle, chief of the Army Base Realignment and Closure Office.

Tonko said he believes the matter needs to be investigated further. He has proposed multiple bills and resolutions to establish a health registry, picking up 62 co-sponsors for his most recent effort. No one in Alabama’s congressional delegation has signed on to the effort.       

“I believe this is a worthy cause and McClellan vets, now scattered throughout the country, deserve to see this become law,” he said. “The legislative process can be a slow one, but that could be sped up by the support of Congressman Mike Rogers, who represents Anniston in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Rogers opposes the registry, saying it would project a false image to those who already view the area as hazardous.

“Our community has made great strides over the years to promote itself as a great place to live, work and start a business, and I am concerned this questionable legislation would unfairly impact those positive efforts,” Rogers wrote in an emailed statement.

Rogers said the bill “would label McClellan a toxic site without any evidence.”

Cost of contamination

Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in North Carolina, was the subject of similar scrutiny after confirmation of troops’ exposure to trichloroethylene, or TCE, and perchloroethylene, or PCE. The findings did not result in a registry of the 630,000 Marines who had gone through the base in a 30-year timespan. The results did, however, spawn health care measures for troops and their families affected by the pollution. This occurred following President Obama signing the Janey Ensminger Act into law in 2012.

Brian Garrett, a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee, estimated the cost of an equivalent registry at Fort McClellan in a 2013 email sent to Tonko. Garrett used Camp Lejeune as a template, estimating that for the North Carolina base, it would take 12 years for a staff of 50 to complete the registry, at a cost of $132 million. Given the timespan, Garrett wrote that the cost for a Fort McClellan registry would be double that of Camp Lejeune

Elizabeth King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, wrote in a 2013 email to Tonko’s office that a health registry would be too costly and cover an unmanageable time period — around 64 years.

“It is extremely difficult to accurately determine past individual exposures to toxic contaminants, especially for those contaminants lacking scientific evidence of an exposure,” she wrote in the email.

King also mentioned the difficulties associated with notifying soldiers, publicizing the registry and identifying a direct correlation between the base and soldiers’ chronic illnesses.

“Considering that virtually every service member will have been exposed to something (including cigarette smoke) during their stationing at the former Fort McClellan, it is unclear what benefit such an open-ended survey would provide,” she wrote.

Tonko said he has been approached by a dozen residents from his own district who say they served at Fort McClellan and now suffer from chronic illnesses.

Democrat Jesse Smith, who will face off against Mike Rogers for District 3 in the November general election, said he has also been approached by local residents, sparking his support for the registry.

“I think it is very important to note that as we move forward, we can’t move forward with politics as usual, neglecting the things that are essential to our existence,” he said. “I think we are going to have a tough time, and we need better representation.”

Eli Henderson, circuit clerk of Calhoun County, worked as a quality assurance specialist at the Chemical Demilitarization Facility in western Anniston for 10 years. During his time, Henderson and those around him were exposed to sarin, a lethal nerve agent, and other kinds of gases in the igloos at the facility. Sarin was spilled directly on Henderson during one incident when a leak doused his rubber suit with the toxin.

“We had nerve agents all over us for years,” he said.

Henderson now suffers from a form of skin cancer on his face that requires an expensive medication to treat. Despite his time at the facility, he is unsure if the exposure resulted in his illness. He is unfamiliar with the proposed registry, but believes if one was constructed, that those who worked in the igloos would be important components in understanding the effects of exposure.

“It could very well be from that one incident or the numerous others,” he said. “Certainly the people I worked with that were exposed would be tops on the list.”

The aftermath

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management said that the cleanup process at Fort McClellan has moved forward, despite accusations of lingering contaminants.

“Much progress has been made in the remediation of Fort McClellan and other sites in Calhoun County to address historic environmental contamination and to ensure the current and future protection of its citizens’ health and the environment,” wrote Jerome Hand, director of public relations for ADEM, in an email interview.

The environmental dangers at the former post have been acknowledged for the last 30 years, he said, but cleanup efforts commenced only with its closing.  

The McClellan Development Authority approached the Army about assuming the redeveloping of the property to ensure the safety of future residents. Robin Scott, executive director of the MDA, said that while he supports veterans who are experiencing health issues, he does not believe that they are a direct result of exposure to military chemical agents dumped around the base. The MDA has only found pollutants related to industrial practices, such as low levels of TCE during the $216 million cleanup, which is currently about two-thirds finished, he said.

“The cleanup that we are doing is really tied to ordnance cleanup, monitoring landfills and water remediation, especially around the sites where industrial type activities occurred,” he said. “We have not been tasked with cleaning any kind of chemical agents that would require us to clean them up.”

Scott said sites that require cleanup at McClellan are related to motor pools and places where vehicle and weapons were repaired.

“None of it has to do with chemical agents and we are not out here cleaning up sarin, mustard or VX, “ he said. “To my knowledge none has been found and in all of the assessments done by the Army they did not highlight any of that activity for us to clean. We are cleaning oil spills, TCE in low levels, gasoline, diesel fuel, cleaning solvents, battery acid, all of the things that have gone on over the 80 something years the base was active.”

Elizabeth Dilts has researched the health issues at the base and advocated for veterans since finishing her basic training at Fort McClellan in 1985. Currently, Dilts lives in Orlando and works as an attorney.

Dilts said she experienced a long list of health problems comparable to those of other veterans with whom she served. She has suffered from conditions that have the potential to cause muscle weakness, nerve damage, ear and jaw pain, and shortness of breath. In addition, she has had numerous breast lumps removed and also had a hysterectomy. Looking back, she said, no warning was given about the possibility of contaminants around her at the base.

“None of [the pollution] is refuted,” she said. “Every bit is from the government’s own studies. They just refuse to tell the veterans because it’s too expensive.”

When Dilts was at Fort McClellan for military police training, she was part of a close-knit group of other female soldiers, many of whom now suffer from similar health issues such as diabetes and cancer.

“Any of these things may be isolated but when you start looking at our group, there were six of us and almost all of us had problems,” she said

Dilts said that although many veterans support a registry, more effort should be made to raise awareness of possible effects from chemical exposure, as opposed to charting the people associated with it.

“Realistically, I think they need to go back to the drawing board and be compelled, not just to have a registry but individually notify these people,” she said. “Just some public service announcements during primetime, like contact your local VA, just anything. That is what needs to be done.” 

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Jeanette posted at 2:16 pm on Mon, Jun 23, 2014.

    Jeanette Posts: 1

    I was at Fort M in 1975. Mr. Rogers you need to be quiet unless you know what you are talking about. I have hundreds of records proving chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, TCE, etc exposure in the air, water and soil at Fort M. VOTE THIS MAN OUT OF OFFICE. If a politician does not support Veterans, we will not vote for them. Mr. Rogers' statements are absolutely IGNORANT (and that is as kind as I can be). He's more worried about his community than human life. WOW.

  • Nat Copeland posted at 7:13 am on Mon, Jun 23, 2014.

    Nat Copeland Posts: 1

    Contacted my congressman Greg Harper in MS and have gotten NO RESPONSE. It is apparent that it is election year and they will nto do anything to upset the apple cart. Need to remember there were other branches that went to training there also. USN June 1993 attended CBR-D training. It is listed on DD-214 so it is not that hard to pull the DD-214 and see who was there. Should be a computer generated scan of who all attended. Granted many in the 64 year period may have passed by now, but let's get some of us that are wanting info to get started there. I have had no seizure problems until the last 4 years. How can that be all of a sudden, no history in family nor for myself... I want answers!

  • DNelson posted at 9:12 pm on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    DNelson Posts: 4

    Trust me, I want something to be done. I worked at McClellan at the MP School for several years and then worked at the Training Brigade where I was all over the ranges. My husband worked for Range Control and was all over the place. He is currently an employee at Pelham Range and has issues that could be related to this subject. The sooner the process can be started, the better.

  • DNelson posted at 9:08 pm on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    DNelson Posts: 4

    I understand Treynolds but they are complaining about the cost. I thought it would be less costly to start with the civilians because they probably still live close by and then expand the study when they determined there was a problem.

  • Treynolds posted at 2:34 pm on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    Treynolds Posts: 2

    dNelson, there is no acceptable length of time for exposure to Cesium 137 or Cobalt 60, both of which the US Army has admitted to in the FOIA requests posted in our group. Exposure to Cobalt 60 was 7,000,000 times acceptable dosage levels. The studies are already done. It's getting Congress to recognize the government' sown studies that needs to be accomplished. I believe they'll do the same thing they did with Agent Orange: they'll stall until an accountant tells them that enough of us are dead that they can afford to care for the rest.

  • williamfcraigjr posted at 2:19 pm on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    williamfcraigjr Posts: 4

    The Monsanto And the U.S. Goverment Hid the pollution Of West Anniston For over 40 Years and so it would make since for them to hide any pollution at the Fort.Its Hard For Me to think that The Army didnt know about The pollution In west anniston seeing thAt The army depot And pelham Range Are There.Good luck on your list Thou cause im sure The army and the goverment want You to go away.

  • mommalin posted at 2:12 pm on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    mommalin Posts: 1

    I never thought some of my illnesses might be from my time at FORT McClellan. I was there for basic and AIT in 1969. From what I remember at that time it was the only training post for WAC. I will definitely keep tract of this. I had 5 miscarriages and no concrete reason why. Would like to know if that could be the reason.

  • DNelson posted at 10:25 am on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    DNelson Posts: 4

    Why not begin this study by checking on the civilians that worked at Fort McClellan. They spent many more years on the base and would have been exposed to the "chemicals" more than anyone else did. This study should be less expensive and would tell if more studies needed to be conducted with the soldiers who sometimes only spent months or a few years here.

  • SKK posted at 9:10 am on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    SKK Posts: 2

    The VA has just implemented a Burn Pit registry. That could serve as the template for a Ft. McClellan registry. I linked to your article, Ryan, in my post today.

  • SKK posted at 9:02 am on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    SKK Posts: 2

    Thank you, Anniston Star. I will link to this on my own site. I am a Ft. McClellan veteran, and have suffered health effects that I believe stem from my time at Echo Co, 1st Bn WACs.

  • Treynolds posted at 8:26 am on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    Treynolds Posts: 2

    Hard to believe that this Alabama legislator says there's no evidence with all that has been uncovered through the FOIA requests, coupled with Anniston's victory in a lawsuit against the US government for the exact same thing. He must have stock in both Monsanto and local real estate.

  • pbrosam010 posted at 4:19 am on Sun, Jun 22, 2014.

    pbrosam010 Posts: 1

    First, I want to thank the Anniston Star for covering this story. Every one of you in Anniston are aware of the mayhem that Monsanto caused to your community. Not only did it affect the residents of Anniston, but it also took it's toll on the military members passing through Ft. McClellan. I am one of those servicemembers. I went through Basic Training/MP AIT from May-Sept 1978. I had no idea what I was stepping into. Had I known, I never would have set foot on Ft. McClellan. I have tried on several occasions tried to contact the Alabama Department of Environmental Management about this issue and they would not talk to me. I also spoke with Beasley Allen Law Firm and four other attorney's in Alabama and they would not have anything to do with assisting me in a lawsuit against Monsanto. I finally hired a law firm out of South Carolina to take my case. Mike Roger's has shown NO interest in helping us get to the truth in this matter, nor any other Alabama Congressional representatives. The politicians are so set on cleaning up McClellan and selling land parcels for economic development, that the money outweighs the ethics. I know for a FACT that McClellan DID show traces of Mustard, VX and Sarin nerve agents. I have documentation of a study done by a team from Aberdeen Proving Grounds done for and the findings addressed to the Commanding General of Ft. McClellan of their findings. Had there been no contaminants found on Ft. McClellan, why has it been going through soil removal and decontamination procedures? They know darn well why.Money should not be an issue, but rather justice and doing the right thing for those that our government was responsible for making ill and killing. As for giving Anniston a bad name for being contaminated, if there is no proof of any major contaminants, then this will be brought out and Ft. McClellan will be vindicated. This is one big government coverup and the politicians know it. They are afraid of opening a big can of worms. Well guess what? It's already been opened. If you study the biography of Ms. King, you fill find that she was oon the committee to recommend and determine base closures. She knows the truth and that truth, I'm sure, helped her make the determination that Ft. McClellan needed to be shut down and cleaned up. One also needs to realize that contaminated drinking water from Choccolocco Creek, Snow Creek and another river basin provided drinking water for the soldiers of Ft. McClellan. Water pipes were put in place going from Anniston into Ft. McClellan. Right now, I know of 3,800 of us on Facebook who went through Ft. McClellan and every one of us have similar health issues that fit into the illnesses found for those subjected to these deadly chemicals that we were exposed to. We were also contaminated with radiation from sewveral locations on base, as well as Pelham range, where we did our weapons training. Cesium 137 and Cobalt 60 were just two radiological isotopes that we were exposed to. There were others as well. One of these was found to be 7 million times the amount for human exposure at one point. The radioactive material was buried in a burial mound on Pelham and was later dug up and layers of soil removed. The oil was placed in special containers and from what I understand was shipped off to a special site in Utah for disposal. There are thousands and thousands of documentation, including letters from Monsanto to their staff on reading the memos and destroying them oafter reading. They also discussed how to answere questions posed by the media and how to basically flat out deny that there was an issue. Ladies and gentlemen, this was INTENTIONAL AND CRIMINAL. People should be going to prison over this.. Many of our current politicians in Washingotn have ties to Monsanto. This is another reason this is sitting and not moving. Every one seems to have their hand in the pie. We need every one of you Anniston residents to contact your alabama Congressional leaders and tell them that enough is enough and that they all need to come clean on this.


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