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Jul-09-2009 11:47printcomments

Law Firm Pursuing El Toro Injuries and Deaths

A Long Beach law firm is investigating injuries and deaths connected with former MCAS El Toro.

Looking through a cyclone fence at what was once a prominent Marine base:
Looking through a cyclone fence at what was once a prominent Marine base: the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. photos of El Toro by Tim King

(LONG BEACH, Calif.) - A Camp Lejeune lawsuit filed this week for injuries from exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and other organic solvents and a growing list of injuries linked to organic exposure from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro, California have one Long Beach law firm actively pursuing clients injured at El Toro.

Michael Gates, attorney with Carroll, Kelly, Trotter, Franzen & McKenna, 111 W. Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, California, said his firm “has been actively investigating [El Toro] for a few months and are eager to hear from injured parties. We want everyone and anyone with serious injuries to contact us.”

The law firm’s interests includes El Toro Marine veterans, dependents, civilian workers and anyone who may have been injured by the organic solvents on the base and those living or working nearby.

Michael Gates can be contacted on email at or by phone at: (562) 432-5855. Facsimile: (562) 432-8785.

As reported yesterday by Tim King in the Salem-News, a lawsuit was filed in Federal District in North Carolina by a “Marine wife over exposure to toxic chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina. The suit was filed jointly by two law firms from Washington D.C. and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.” See:">17 Male Breast Cancer Victims Have Ties to Camp Lejeune Marine Base - Staff)

A trichloroethylene (TCE) toxic plume was discovered in 1985 off of MCAS El Toro. The toxic plume has spread miles off the base into nearby Orange County.

El Toro was placed on the EPA Superfund list in 1990, closed in July 1999, and most of the land sold at a public auction in 2005. MWSG-37 (EPA Site 24) was the source of the toxic plume spreading off the base. Multiple contaminants were found on base near landfills, including radionuclides (Uranium 235, Radium 226 and Radium 228).

TCE was used at El Toro as a metal degreaser for aircraft parts for decades before sound environmental disposal practices were known.

Radium 226 was used in a Radium Paint Room in Hangar 296 at El Toro for a number of years. The Navy requests for unrestricted radiological use of the hangar from the California Department of Public Heath was filed in July 2002, but has not been approved by the state.

Besides the hangar, radiation was found in the groundwater in the immediate area of several base landfills.

EPA and the Navy estimated 8,000 pounds of TCE in the soil and groundwater under the base. A TCE plume spreads miles into Orange County, but both Navy and EPA contend that the toxic chemical poses no danger to the local water supply.

The city of Irvine’s consultant estimated the amount closer to 700,000 pounds. The Navy disputes the higher amount.

El Toro’s Contaminants

EPA identified multiple contaminants of concern (COC) at El Toro. According to EPA, “These are the substances that are addressed by cleanup actions at the site. Identifying COCs is a process where the EPA identifies people and ecological resources that could be exposed to contamination found at the site, determines the amount and type of contaminants present, and identifies the possible negative human health or ecological effects that could result from contact with the contaminants.” (See:

EPA’s website has not updated to include radionuclides (Uranium 235, Radium 226 and Radium 228). However, Envirostor, the state’s website, shows radioactive isotopes as a potential contaminant of concern. (See:"?

EPA reported that TCE usage was discontinued at El Toro in the mid-1970s. Reports from Marine veterans dispute that claim.

An enlisted Marine wrote of usage of TCE in the 1980s long after the Navy and Marine claimed El Toro stopped using this solvent: “I was an enlisted ordnance man with VMA - 214 Black Sheep Squadron from 1985-88. I loaded heavy munitions on the A4-M Sky Hawk and when these aircraft would return after dropping the bombs, we were required to break down and clean either the "MER" or "TER" ejection racks. Part of this cleaning process consisted of "secretly" soaking certain parts in a solvent that came in 5 gallon green cans with yellow lettering stating that it was TCE. I was told that we were not to get caught using this solvent because it was not an authorized cleaning agent, only soap and water was to be used.

"The 5 gallon cans were always kept out of sight until I poured them into a 55 gallon drum that was cut in half, length ways and mounted in a welded frame. The parts would stay in the solvent for 24 hours then I had to remove them by hand and place them into 5 gallon buckets filled with soap and water, take them into the hangar and scrub them."

"I cannot count the times that I did that process but I spent many hours with my arms, elbow deep in that solvent."

"I remember being amazed at how quickly the solvent would evaporate off my arms when I brought them out of the soaking drum."

The EPA website links each COC with the toxicological profile prepared by the Agency for Toxic Disease Registry (ATSDR). ATSDR is a Federal agency responsible for the performance of public health assessments of EPA Superfund sites like MCAS El Toro.

Organic solvents are capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other substances. Many organic solvents are carcinogens. ATSDR identified the following diseases linked to exposure to organic solvents:

(Associated with TCE)
* aplastic anemia (benzene)bladder cancer (PCE)
* brain cancer (VC)
* breast cancer (PCE)
* cervical cancer (TCE, PCE)
* endometriosis (solvents)
* esophageal cancer (PCE)
* generalized skin disorders (TCE)
* Hodgkin’s disease (TCE)
* infertility (PCE, TCE, solvents)
* kidney cancers (TCE)
* kidney diseases (TCE, PCE)
* leukemias (TCE, benzene, PCE)
* liver cancer and liver disease (TCE, VC)
* lung cancer (PCE, VC)
* Lupus (TCE)
* motor neuron disease/ALS (solvents)
* multiple myeloma (TCE, benzene)
* multiple sclerosis (solvents)
* NHL (TCE, PCE, benzene)
* pancreatic cancer (PCE)
* Parkinson’s disease (TCE)
* scleroderma (TCE, PCE)
* soft tissue sarcoma (VC)
* spontaneous abortion (PCE, benzene)

An increasing number of reports of injuries and deaths from El Toro Marine veterans and dependents have been received by the over the past year.

Marine Suggests ‘Cancer Cluster’

On Marine veteran of Marine Wing Service Group 37 reported that: “We were on the upper deck of the big hangar that, as I recall, was the 'eastern hangar' of the two big ones.

"I saw alot of TCE 'up-close-and-personal' as the aircraft strip down was done below us. At the TCE 'hose-down' stage, clouds of the stuff would waft on the wind - get into the upper level."

He conyinued, "As I recall, a single F9F could use up to a 1/3rd of a 55-gallon drum. Excess TCE simply drained into a sump outside the hangar door. If you were entering or exiting the hangar while this segment was underway you had to stand back and not let the stuff get on your uniform of the day. If you got spritized - goodbye your clothing - would eat away the cloth like a moth. Replacement, as I recall, was at your own expense."

"In the other big hangar, open tanks of TCE were used to accept the exhaust stacks from the R5D's - other recips undergoing overhaul or repair…a lot of these Marines are either dead or dying (family members included). You can see this by reading through the Marine Air Transport Association quarterly newspapers going back to 2000. The 'obits' would leave one to believe that dozens of these Marines - spanning literally decades of service - have died from conditions that fairly scream out 'CLUSTER CANCER' with TCE fingerprints."

There may be more to this than just one man’s speculation. TCE is a known carcinogen. This Wednesday, the AP reported that studying the water at the Camp Lejeune, another Marine Corps base in North Carolina contaminated with organic solvents, were "startled" after learning that 11 men with breast cancer and ties to the North Carolina base were identified over the last two years. Over the course of the next week, 6 more men with breast cancer who were aboard Camp Lejeune were discovered. (See: Male breast cancer and Camp Lejeune: Pollution or coincidence?)

Anecdotal Reports of Illnesses

The following are just a few of the email reports received by the of Marines, dependents and teachers from the El Toro Marine Corps School who reported serious illnesses linked to exposure to organic solvents at El Toro:

One daughter wrote that: "My dad was a US Marine during the Vietnam War. He was stationed, among other places, at El Toro and Camp Lejeune. I've learned of the TCE contamination at both bases and know for sure that he was in the specific area that was contaminated at El Toro, and am looking into where he was at Lejeune."

"This is relevant to the reason I am writing because my dad is terminally ill with Glioblastoma, a rare cancer that has been linked to TCE exposure. I believe that it is directly a result of his time in the military."

"We since learned that her father died from Glioblastoma. About 8 of every 100,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with primary malignant brain tumors. According to Salah Uddin, MD, Consulting Staff, Department of Internal Medicine, Carraway Methodist Medical Center, “Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and most aggressive of the primary brain tumors." (See:

Another MWSG-37 Marine and Vietnam veteran reported that: "[He] Went to MWSG-37 in 1968 exposed to VOCs. I have had removal of my tongue due to cancer. Reconstruction of my oral cavity along with partial removal of neck contents bilaterally. Additional post operative radiation therapy. That was in 1999. In 2007 the cancer came back and I had two more operations."

A retired El Toro Marine disputed the Navy’s report that TCE usage was discontinued at El Toro in the 1970s, “You say that these chemicals were only used until the mid 1970's but I know for a fact that they were used up until the early 1990's. How do I know because we used them OFTEN. As you said they were a degreaser and an outstanding one at that. They were also used for hydraulic contamination testing and keeping hydraulic components and equipment clean. When I was with VMA(AW)-121 and MALS-11 we would use the stuff daily (1-5 gallons). I think the hangers that you are referring to are the KC-130 hangers on the west end of the base. I do know of a Marine that spent most of his career in that hanger and died of cancer soon after retiring (months), the VA/USMC claimed not military related. We took up a big collection in the squadron/KC-130 community to help his family pay for medical bills.”

A wife reported that: "My ex-husband was stationed on El Toro from 1993-1995 and then in SC. Shortly after leaving CA, I found out I had 11 tumors, I suspected that the base was illegally dumping in to the ground but I don't know which one."

A woman who served at El Toro in the 1990's wrote, “I am a female who served in the Marine Corps from 1990-1995. I spent the last 2 years of my enlistment at El Toro ...I worked directly on the airplanes. I washed them, fueled them, repaired them, etc."

Her problems today are serious, "Now I have breast cancer. I have 2 cancerous lumps that just happen to be 2 different types of cancer. This is rare. There is only a 1-5% chance of this happening. I also have positive lymph nodes in my armpit, am undergoing chemotherapy and will be getting a mastectomy later this year."

A Marine wife reported the death of her husband, "When my Marine veteran husband developed brain cancer, his neurosurgeon asked if he had ever been exposed to toxic chemicals. He was stationed at El Toro and Camp Lejeune in the 1960's but we knew nothing of the TCE/PCE exposure. My husband died March 24, 2008."

Teacher from the El Toro Marine School (grades 1-6) reported, "I was a teacher at El Toro Marine for five years. Many of the veteran teachers who had worked on the base over the years had been chronically sick and some had various types of cancer. I am not sick now that I am aware of, but I fear what I may have been exposed to."

A brother and sister both El Toro Marines who now live in Southern California reported, "My brother and I were stationed at El Toro between 1964 through 1967. We both have many physical problems. My brother developed cancer of the throat two years ago and was actually dead for 45 seconds and I have COPD and need a breathing device to sleep at night."

For more stories on both El Toro and Lejeune, please see Click on the banner, “Are Marines Getting the Shaft in America?”

Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at This subject is where Bob intersected with Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne

  • . You can email Bob O’Dowd, Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address:

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