Paul Gordon: 3/17/11

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Paul Gordon: Lawsuits may uncover long-buried facts about Fort Detrick
For years, Fort Detrick has had a public relations strategy. Anytime there are negative stories about the base, the public relations department has written articles about Fort Detrick and how its research has saved lives, as well as how it has been a good neighbor.

But during the past year, it has fought a losing battle, despite the efforts of it public relations. Those who question the good neighborliness and innocence of the military fort have begun to organize.

The Kristen Renee Foundation has spurred inquiries based on its own investigation of the polluted ground water and the hundreds of cancer deaths among Fort Detrick’s neighbors. It has galvanized those who had remained silent for decades.

Forty-two of those residents have filled $2 billion worth of claims against the Army post, and at least 150 more will do so, according to news accounts. The fort’s legal personnel indicate none have included the required supporting data. But during the past year, Detrick’s remedial activity has revealed such data.

It will be interesting to see how Detrick communicates with those who question whether it has been a good neighbor or a threat to the health, safety and welfare of its neighbors. And with the amount of money involved, it may even cause further investigation by a presidential or congressional committee.

It used to be that because of Detrick’s economic contribution to the community, little was said publicly between neighbors about suspicions related to the safety of living near or working at the fort.

Since the Kristen Renee Foundation has become involved and publicized its research, bits and pieces of information have been discussed in public by those who had once remained silent, even though they had lost loved ones, suspecting Fort Detrick for their loss….

Nor has it helped that even the government has questioned Detrick’s operations and recently ordered investigations. The cleanup of its landfill had to be halted twice because of potentially dangerous material that was found. Then the area had to be capped because admittedly Detrick had contaminated groundwater, the effect on its neighbors still not totally known.

Then came the question of inventory controls and whether dangerous materials were leaving the post because of the lack of controls. Several years ago, an inventory found 9,200 vials from experimentation and research that had never been inventoried, raising the question of how complete were its inventory records.

Of course, the anthrax letter incident produced an investigation that supposedly proved the anthrax had come from a single flask at Detrick. And Detrick recently acknowledged that it used Agent Orange in experiments, despite denying it for years.

Their problem is that many of the records cannot be found, which seems to be a standard answer when Detrick personnel at public meetings have been questioned about the records to support their statements. Recently, Detrick hired a firm to search for Detrick’s missing archives.

The list of laxity is long and revealing, and could support the conclusion the base contributed to the deaths of neighbors and workers at Fort Detrick. And the Kristen Renee Foundation is gathering that data to assist those who previously felt that no one cared.

Paul Gordon is a local historian, and was mayor of Frederick city from January 1990 to January 1994. His column appears weekly. You can reach him at To submit a letter to the editor in response to this column, log onto, and click on the Speak Out tab.

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