Army to interview residents, ex-employees about environmental contamination issues
Originally published October 15, 2010
By Megan Eckstein
The Army wants to learn more about its past environmental contaminations, and it is counting on local residents and former employees to help.
In an effort to tap area knowledge about when and where outdoor tests, contamination incidents and more took place, the Army wants to interview anyone who has any recollection of past activities.
“We’re looking for any retirees, current or former employees, or residents who have any recollection of testing or activities from 1940 to 1970,” Fort Detrick spokesman Rob Sperling said.
To ensure the privacy of those who share information about Fort Detrick, Detrick officials will not be involved in the process. The Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract to One Stop Environmental LLC, which will publicize the project and conduct the interviews.
“The purpose of these interviews is to gather information concerning activities conducted at Fort Detrick that may have led to environmental contamination and to provide a means for the community to be involved and contribute to Fort Detrick’s ongoing restoration program,” an Army Corps of Engineers news release states….
The interviews will begin in early November, but people are encouraged to sign up now. The deadline to sign up for an interview is Dec. 15.
“We just want to get as much information as possible,” Sperling said, adding that he was unsure what format the final product would take but that it was meant to supplement information the Army hopes to collect through an archival search of government documents.
At issue is whether Fort Detrick tested or produced Agent Orange and other substances that could have caused hundreds of cases of cancer in nearby neighborhoods. Fort Detrick officials have said they were unaware that Agent Orange was tested there during the World War II and Vietnam War eras, and they will not decide how to proceed until they learn the full extent of the chemical testing. But the Kristen Renee Foundation and its supporters have accused the Army post of keeping information from its neighbors who say the Army research has made them sick.
“What we’re interested in is a full disclosure from Fort Detrick,” said John Bee, the foundation’s environmental scientist.
The Kristen Renee Foundation has already interviewed more than 600 people who have provided information about cancer cases nearby and about the same environmental activities One Stop Environmental is seeking to learn about. Rachel Pisani, a publicist for the foundation, said she was skeptical about the Army’s efforts but would not discourage people from sharing what they know.
“I have no confidence that will help, based on the history of Fort Detrick,” she said. “But absolutely we’d encourage people to participate.”
In tandem with the investigation into the Army’s past use of dangerous chemicals is a health department investigation into a possible cancer cluster. Based on figures from 2000 to 2007 — and looking only at a one-mile radius around Fort Detrick — the initial investigation results did not indicate a higher-than-expected rate of cancer near the Army post, health officials said earlier this month.
In that time period, residents in the one-mile radius were diagnosed with 1,059 cases of cancer, including:
n 149 lung cancers
n 159 female breast cancers
n 102 colorectal cancers
n 141 prostate cancers
n 79 kidney and bladder cancers
n 79 leukemias and lymphomas
n 29 thyroid cancers
n 11 brain and central nervous system cancers
The Kristen Renee Foundation, upon hearing this data, immediately asked for a deeper investigation that delves into decades-old records from many states, which health officials have said would be a complicated task to do accurately.
In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Pisani said the foundation had found many cases where patients developed a cancer at a much younger age than expected, which the health department investigation has not addressed thus far. She also said that, while the initial investigation did not indicate any geographic clusters, the foundation’s interviews have shown several cancer hot spots, including more than 43 cancer cases along Shookstown Road, 27 on Old Receiver Road and more than 20 cases along Rosemont Avenue. In addition, Pisani said the foundation also uncovered 17 cases on Rocky Springs Road and 17 cases on Kemp Lane.