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Mar-17-2012 04:45printcomments

Radiation Risk to El Toro Marine Veterans

Marines may have unknowingly been exposed to radiation in Hangar 296 at closed California base.

Marine Corps danger
Visit: mwsg37.com

(IRVINE, CA) - The former Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro, California is an EPA Superfund, closed by the Marine Corps in 1999 and most of the former base sold at a public auction in 2005.

Hangar 296 MCAS El Toro

There may have been as many as 300 Marines and more unknowingly exposed to radiation from 1969 to 1999 in the Wing Supply Support Division attached to MWSG-37, MCAS El Toro.

Other units occupied the contaminated space after WSSD was transferred elsewhere on the base. The details on the number of Marines at risk to exposure in the north mezzanine of Hangar 296 are not known at this time.

According to Roy F. Weston, a Navy contractor, the administrative space in the hangar had previously been occupied by a Ra 226 paint room in the 1940s and 1950s, much of the area was found to have, or had, a potential for radioactive contamination based on site history, or known contamination above established release limits, categorized as Class 1.

Other portions of the north mezzanine have, or had, a potential for radioactive contamination based on site history, but are not expected to exceed established limits, categorized as Class 2.

Ra 226 is about one million times as radioactive as an equivalent mass of uranium. The Marine Corps and other military services mixed Ra 226 with zinc sulfide to create radioluminescent paint for aircraft gauges and instruments, allowing aircrews to see the instruments in the dark.

The light emitted by the paint is due to the radiation energy deposited in the luminescent crystals by alpha and/or beta particles.

I was one of the Marines who was assigned to WSSD in the 1960s. Exposure to radiation can cause cancer. Bladder cancer is one of the cancers linked to radiation exposure.

I survived bladder cancer in 2005. I’m not a smoker and no one in my family history ever had bladder cancer.

Imagine for a moment that you’re one of the millions of veterans who served at a base now on the EPA Superfund list.

Like many veterans you now live far from your former military base, don’t have access to the internet, have no contacts with former military friends, may be seriously ill, and unable to “connect the dots” of your illness to military service.

In fact, you may have been separated from the military for decades and have no clue that your illness is related to military service. I was luckier than most. I had worked for the EPA IG, knew my way around computers and the internet and just happened to come across a website on El Toro’s Superfund status. I nearly fell off my chair. The EPA had traced the TCE plume to Hangars 296 and 297. Further research revealed that a Navy contractor in 2002 reported the north mezzanine of Hangar 296 contaminated with radiation from a former Ra 226 paint room.

Unlike someone injured on the job from exposure to contaminants, there’s no workman compensation for a veteran to cover medical expenses or even the possibility of filing a tort lawsuit for injuries.

VETERANS CAN NOT SUE THE GOVERNMENT

Based on a Supreme Court decision, veterans cannot file a lawsuit against the government for injuries incurred on active duty. Veterans can file a VA disability claim. The catch is that a successful claim requires medical evidence of injury and a nexus statement from a medical care provider, linking your medical condition to military service.

MWSG-37 area, at MCAS El Toro. Photo by Bonnie King

A doctor’s opinion that your injury is “at least as likely as not” related to military service may serve as a creditable nexus statement. Many doctors do want ‘to get involved with the government’ and simply refuse to write a nexus opinion. I have personally experience, “Sorry, I’d like to help but I don’t want to get involved with the government in any type of claim.”

Even if you find a willing doctor, the VA disability process may take years to settle. A 100% disabled, unmarried veteran without any dependents receives less than $3,000 per month. This is definitely not a lotto ticket.

While military service in time of war is a duty for every able bodied citizens, even the more zealous patriots may hesitant to volunteer if the environment pollution risks are known. Purple Hearts are not awarded for death from toxic chemicals and radiation.

As late as 2009, the California Department of Public Health had not approved this hangar for unrestricted use, despite the Navy’s request to do so. I haven’t been to California in three years and the status of the hangar may still be unchanged.

Exposure to Ra 226 can be deadly. The half-life of Ra 226 is over 1,600 years. After 1,600 years, for example, 2 grams of Ra 226 will still be radioactive from a quantity of 4 grams. No Marine veterans who worked in this hangar have been notified of their possible exposure to this deadly contaminant nor are there any efforts underway by the Navy or the Marine Corps to even attempt notification through the Veteran Service Organizations.

Camp Lejeune's Hadnot Point during the Vietnam War.
Photo provided by Nancy Brown - from:
Camp Lejeune
and Breast Cancer: Not Just a Male Problem Anymore

There’s no legal requirement for notification and apparently, despite its motto of Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps feels no moral obligation to its veterans to give them a heads-up. Please don’t take this the wrong way, most Marines that I know believe in the brotherhood and will go to great lengths to help another Marine. The problem is that there’s little effort made on the part of senior Marine Corps leadership.

A glaring example of this is Camp Lejeune. The base wells were contaminated with organic solvents for 30 years (1957-1987); many Marines have died from exposure to the contaminants. Yet, except for ‘lip service,’ the Marine Corps has done very little to support health care and compensation to those injured from Lejeune’s contaminated water wells. Oh, senior officer attended Congressional hearings and ‘talk the talk’ of supporting Marine veterans and their families but no health care bill has passed Congress and the bills under consideration were not proposed by the Marine Corps or DOD. Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller (June 26, 1898 – October 11, 1971) was the most decorated Marine in history, and the only Marine to be awarded five Navy Crosses. If he were alive today, Lieutenant General Puller would be leading the fight for his Camp Lejeune Marines.

The VA attributed my bladder cancer to organic solvent exposure at El Toro but it could have just as easily have come from exposure to radiation in Hangar 296. Oh, I submitted a compensation claim and went through the drill; the VA has taken a ‘hard stand.’

In a February 2012 denial (officially a Statement of the Case or SOC), the Philadelphia VA said that no supply MOS Marines worked in the hangar at El Toro and based on a VA urine analysis and white blood cell count, there’s no evidence my bladder cancer and other medical conditions came from radiation exposure.

The VA is wrong, just plain dead wrong. Hundreds of supply MOS Marines worked in the Wing Supply Support Division (WSSD) at El Toro and the VA test will only support massive dosage of radiation exposure, according to an international radiation expert with 40 years experience and multiple doctorate degrees.

On my behalf, Dr. Rosalie Bertell wrote to the Philadelphia VA Regional Administrator in November 2011, telling her that the VA’s radiation test was inadequate and that the only definitive test for radiation exposure is a blood breakage chromosome test from one of two government laboratories. The VA ignored Dr. Bertell’s letter.

It doesn’t sound to me like a blood test from one of two government labs would cost the VA a great deal of money, but that’s the VA SOC made it very clear that there’s no support that you even worked in a hangar (I read this as “you’re a liar”) and, even if you can support working in Hangar 296, our test show that you were not exposed to radiation.

One VA official in a thinly veiled reference to age said that this happened also 50 years ago so you now you have cancer. If this man reads this column, please note that I’ve been seriously ill for past 26 years, but never knew about the connection to El Toro until very recently.

I will appeal the VA decision but good luck without the chromosome blood test. At best, the BVA will direct the Philadelphia VA to draw the blood for the chromosome breakage blood test. If the results are positive, I win. Of course, I may be dead by the time the appeal process is completed and there’s no way to draw blood from a corpse. Gee, how do I thank the VA for all they have done for me and other veterans?

I’m trying to contact as many El Toro WSSD Marines (who worked in Hangar 296’s north mezzanine). If you worked in WSSD or any other Marine unit physically located in the north mezzanine of Hangar 296, please contact me at rodowd@live.com.

The following roster of enlisted Marines with a supply MOS 3071 is from H&HS-37, dated 30 June 1963. These men worked either in WSSD or in the supply warehouse (my name is on the roster). For VA purposes, the official duty roster doesn’t show the building or hangar these Marines worked in:

PFC DANIEL ALLEN

LCPL STANLEY LEMKE

LCPL JAMES WINKLER

PVT JOHOHN ARAMBULA

SGT SAMUEL LINDSAY

LCPL CRAIG THORPE

LCPL NICHOLAS ANTONE

PFC RICHARD LORD

SGT PAUL TRACE

MSGT THOMAS ARBOUR

LCPL MICHAEL MARAS

LCPL HOWARD VARNADO

LCPL GERALD AUGUSTINE

PFC DAVID MATAYA

GYSGT CHARLES VELTON

SGT BILL BARROW

PFC ROBERT MATHEY

PFC JOHN VIBERG

SGT JAMES BARRY

PFC ROBERT MCCELLAND

CPL WOODROW WATSON

SSGT LINNIE BATTLE

MSGT OLIVER MCKINNEY

CPL JAMES WEBB

CPL EDWARD BELTRAME

LCPL ROBERT MILKINS

PFC THOMAS WEHAGE

LCPL RONALD BENNETT

PFC WILLIAM MULLANEY

CPL RONNIE WILLIS

SGT RAYMOND BRACKETT

PFC RAYMOND MUNDY

GYSGT JOHN WILSON

LCPL JOSEPH BRANCATO

PFC NATHANIEL NASH

LCPL JAMES WINKLER

PFC RONALD BROWN

LCPL DRA NICCUM

PFC WILLIAM BUCKLES

LCPL HAROLD OBRYAN

PFC CLYDE BURRES

PFC ROBERT O’DOWD

CPL JAMES CARLIN

LCPL JOHN PALMQUIST

PFC SAMUEL CERVANTES

LCPL CLAYTON PARKER

LCPL GARY COLE

GYSGT JACK PARKER

LCPL RUSSELL COSTELLO

PFC LLOYD PARKER

PFC LARRY COSTNER

LCPL JOHN POTTS

PFC FRED CROWLEY

LCPL DALE PROUTY

SSGT WILLIAM DANIELS

PFC BRUCE REKETT

PFC DALE DENN

LCPL JON RHOADES

PFC THEODORE ESCH

CPL ALEXANDER RIVERA

PVT JODY FLURY

SSGT CHARLES RIVETT

MGSGT HOWARD GREENIA

LCPL JIMMY ROWE

PFC GARRY GRIMOLDBY

PVT PHIL SATTERFIELD

PFC THOMAS HADLEY

CPL ROBERT SCHWARZKOFF

CPL LAWRENCE HARMAN

LCPL JAMES SCOTT

PFC DAVID HAWKINS

SGT HAROLD SMITH

PFC JACK HEATER

SGT HENRY SMITH

PFC GARY HOPPER

LCPL JAMES SMITH

PFC DAVID HUDDLESTON

CPL CECIL SPEAR

CPL LESTER HULLABY

LCPL DAVID STPIERRE

GYSGT ALBERT IRVINE

CPL GORDON SWINDLE

CPL ROBERT JENKINS

PFC JIMMY TAYLOR

PFC KIRK JOHNSON

LCPL TERRY TEDROW

PFC JAMES JOHNSTONE

LCPL GERALD THEAKER

PFC THORTON JORDAN

PFC JAMES THOMAS

LCPL CARLTON KANT

LCPL CRAIG THORPE

PFC WILLIAM KEMPER

SGT PAUL TRACE

LCPL CURTIS KENZY

LCPL HOWARD VARNADO

PFC HARRY KING

GYSGT CHARLES VELTON

SGT WALTER KNAUB

PFC JOHN VIBERG

LCPL ANTHONY KOST

CPL WOODROW WATSON

PFC WILLIAM KUEHLMAN

CPL JAMES WEBB

LCPL ISSAC KUPAHU

PFC THOMAS WEHAGE

PFC HOWARD KYLE

CPL RONNIE WILLIS

GYSGT LEROY LEACH

GYSGT JOHN WILSON

1 Based on an estimated manpower strength of 30 Marines who served a 3 year tour over the period from 1969 to 1999 or 30 years divided by 3 year tour equals 10 tours times 30 Marines for a estimated total of 300 Marines.

_________________________________

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 mwsg37.com. This subject is where Bob intersected with Salem-News.com. 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, Salem-News.com Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address: consults03@comcast.net





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Bob O'Dowd March 18, 2012 6:34 am (Pacific time)

More ‘good news’ about Ra 226 and why it’s not used to paint aircraft gauges and instrument today. From the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility: “Radium-226 is one of the more dangerous of the uranium decay products. It is a radioactive heavy metal, and a potent alpha emitter. As it decays, it produces radon gas as a byproduct. Radium is chemically similar to calcium, so when ingested, it migrates to the bones, the teeth and the milk. It is readily taken up by vegetation. In aquatic plants, it can be concentrated by factors of hundreds or even thousands. In the first half of the twentieth century, radium was used to make a paint that glows in the dark. Radium is now considered too dangerous to use for such purposes… Today, it is considered dangerous to wear a watch whose numerals have been painted with radium paint, because some of the decay products give off intense gamma rays, even more powerful than x-rays. This type of radiation can damage the body by sending rays right through it, even from a distance. Indeed, radium is sometimes used in cancer therapy for this very reason, to destroy unwanted tumors…Several U.S. studies have reported higher rates of cancer and leukemia in communities having elevated levels of radium in the drinking water, although the cause-and-effect relationship in these cases is still a matter of dispute.”


Bob O'Dowd March 17, 2012 7:43 pm (Pacific time)

I'm more than happy to send a copy of the Roy F. Weston, Inc. report on Hangar 296's Ra 226 paint room to the anonymous person who commented on this article. Of course, if this person is a government employee as suggested by Tim, then they already have a copy of it. Weston classified the north mezzanine as Class 1 and 2 contaminated areas, not me. Radium does exist in nature but Ra 226 paint rooms are inherently dangerous places. During the 1920s, there were too many women who used this paint die from cancer by not following appropriate procedures. One very dangerous technique was the wetting their paint brushes with their tongues. Weston reported that contaminated portions of the Hangar 296’s north mezzanine were removed by the Navy to hazardous waste sites. Dr. Bertell was the founder and Director International Commission Chernobyl, the Director of Radiation Research/ Ministry of Concern for Public Health, Buffalo, NY. Her c.v. runs 12 single space pages and lists 147 published professional articles and books. She has been a consultant for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, etc. I would be happy to mail this person a copy of her letter to the Ms. Eileen Kostic, Philadelphia VA’s Veterans Service Center Manager, explaining the scientific basis for the chromosome blood breakage test as the preferred test for radiation exposure. Anyone who provides me with their email address can receive a copy of the Weston report.


Don March 17, 2012 7:08 am (Pacific time)

The author is sincerely wrong. Radium exists in nature. It it found in the soil almost everywhere and is basically harmless. Dr. Rosaile Bertell is not a radiation expert. Her "work" and "findings" have been proven to be wrong many times by the scientific community. Like the author she is sincere; but sincerely wrong. The VA is correct in this instance.

Editor: In the future character assaults, even when dipped in sugar, will not be approved here unless a person represents his or her self with a first and last name.  I know this hangar well, I know a good amount about this and the writer is correct and this person who probably works for the government is not.  Hell, Mr. O'Dowd proves it with the diagram in his last report, stop trying to insinuate defense for the government that abandons the needs of veterans in this nation every day.  

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©2017 Salem-News.com. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Salem-News.com.


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