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Toxic Exposure of Marines, Murder and Government Cover-upSalem-News.com
New book explores MCAS El Toro Superfund Site and related mysteries.
(SALEM) - A Few Good Men, Too Many Chemicals, published on Amazon's Kindle on May 4th, is the result of a three year investigation by Tim King and Robert O’Dowd of Salem-News.com into the environmental contamination at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro, California, and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
MCAS El Toro was closed in July 1999, and most of the former base sold at a public auction by the Navy while Camp Lejeune remains an active Marine Corps base today.
Beginning in 2008, Salem-News.com published over 100 news stories covering the health effects of environmental hazards reported by the Navy and EPA at former MCAS El Toro and Camp Lejeune under the banner, “Are Marines Getting the Shaft in America?”
The most industrialized portion of MCAS El Toro was the Marine Wing Support Group 37 (MWSG-37), the site of a major trichloroethylene (TCE) plume spreading miles off base into Orange County.
The TCE plume put the base on the list of the most hazardous environmental sites in the country. As ‘ground zero’ for the TCE plume, MWSG-37’s 200 acres included 11 separate contaminated sites where the soil and groundwater were contaminated with multiple Contaminants of Concern (COCs), including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs ), heavy metals, Radium 226, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), semi volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH), dioxins and JP-5 (jet fuel).
The TCE plume cut a path right through the base wells. The Navy claims the early purchase of municipal water in 1951 and the absence of pumping records after December 1950 as support for the early abandonment of wells that were less than 10 years old at the time. The actual dates the wells were abandoned are unknown; the records presumed lost or trashed.
There’s evidence to support the wells continued to function into the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
MCAS El Toro may not have completely abandoned all the wells until TCE was discovered off base in 1985 by the Orange County Water District. The next year the water distribution drawings were redrawn with only an old agricultural well used to irrigate the Irvine Company’s fields surrounding the base shown on the water distribution drawings.
All of the original well construction drawings are missing and the locations of the critical well screen intervals unknown, except for one well inspected by the Navy in 1998.
This 1998 inspection found more than 40 feet of the well screen opened in the contaminated Shallow Groundwater Unit (SGU); an analysis of the water found TCE in excess of the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). After this finding, the Navy stopped looking for other well screen intervals. Like dead men, they are all wearing ‘concrete shoes’.
Marine Veterans who manage “to connect the dots of serious health effects to military service” are literally on their own to file disability and compensation claims with often a hostile Veterans Administration.
MURDER AND GUNS FOR DRUGS AT EL TORO
Congressional testimony from a former CIA pilot revealed that MCAS El Toro was used by unmarked C-130’s to fly guns to Central and South America and drugs (cocaine was the drug of choice) back into the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. These were not Marine Corps aircraft and the planes were not flown by Marines. The C-130s were owned or leased to CIA proprietary airlines.
During the height of Desert Storm in January 1991, the Marine Corps Inspector General paid a surprise visit to MCAS El Toro. Lieutenant General Hollis Davidson skipped the customary courtesy visit with the Commanding General. His first stop was Bldg. 53, El Toro’s data processing center.
The IG was looking for the data file on civilian aircraft. SSgt Tom Wade who worked in data processing and had the knowledge to access data files, reported that the Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR) data file was purged.
Lieutenant General Davidson was not happy with this news. The MWR data file contained all of the records on the refueling and maintenance of civilian aircraft at El Toro. The IG immediately went to the office of Colonel Joseph Underwood, El Toro’s Chief of Staff. Underwood was not in the office. Colonel Underwood’s door was locked. The locked door was broken and the office searched. Colonel Underwood was relieved of his duties two days later. Several years later, GySgt Tom Wade, assigned to a base in Florida, was murdered. His murder remains unsolved today.
Colonel James E. Sabow, El Toro’s Assistant Chief of Staff and later Chief of Operations for the Western Area, Marine Corps, knew about the authorized shipment of guns but not the illegal shipment of drugs.
Accused of personal misuse of military aircraft, he refused to go quietly, demanding court martial to clear his name. In doing so, he may have unknowingly signed his own death warrant.
Colonel Sabow was found dead on January 22, 1991 by his wife in their quarters at El Toro. At first, it looked like a suicide from a shotgun blast in the mouth. There was no suicide note and he gave no indications to his wife and others that he was depressed. A combat Veteran of Vietnam with 122 combat missions, he had faced death many times. Seemingly unconcerned about the eventual outcome of the investigation of the alleged misused of government aircraft, he had tossed a football the morning of his death with neighborhood kids, a common practice he was known for.
The Department of Defense labeled Colonel Sabow’s death a suicide, despite the overwhelming evidence of murder. One autopsy photograph clearly showed a tramline bruise from a lead pipe, baseball bat or 2×6 board, a key indicator of homicide.
The autopsy was conducted by civilian pathologist under contract with the Orange County Sheriff/Coroner. No mention was made of the tramline bruise. The death certificate read suicide. However a investigation by Dr. David Sabow, his younger brother and a court recognized forensic neurologist, and independent medical experts and scientists support homicide as the cause of death.
Efforts to obtain an impartial hearing before the Orange County Coroner by Dr. Sabow failed. The latest attempt was in 2010.
An NCIS cold case agent met with the OC pathologist who had performed the 1991 autopsy. The NCIS agent had been present at the crime scene in 1991 and had a copy of an affidavit from an internationally recognized pathologist concluding that the Colonel Sabow was murdered and the crime scene tampered with. It didn’t matter. Nothing changed.
The death of Colonel Sabow and the role played by the Orange County coroner, NCIS and the DOD in the subsequent investigation of his death should be reviewed by an independent prosecutor. As it stands now, his death is officially listed as a suicide, even though it occurred on a military base and the autopsy was not conducted by military personnel or witnessed by military personnel as required by Navy regulations.
EL TORO LEADERSHIP FORCED TO LEAVE THE CORPS
Colonel Underwood, El Toro’s Chief of Staff and Colonel Sabow’s next door neighbor, was forced to retire from the Corps in 1991. The alleged allegations included use of military aircraft for golf juntas. Banned from the base by Brigadier General Wayne T. Adams, The Los Angeles Times quoted Underwood known as “the mayor of the El Toro base during a sometimes stormy four-year stint as chief of staff that he had done nothing wrong in his use of base C-12 Beechcraft planes and Adams had reneged on promises to end the matter quietly.”
Brigadier General Wayne Adams, Commanding General of MCAS El Toro from September 1990 until May 1991, retired in 1991, after he was issued a letter of reprimand in connection with a trip to Big Bear with his fiancée. The Los Angeles Times reported that the general flew a jet fighter while on heart medication, accepted “expensive champagne glasses from a business associate, and spent $7,000 in government funds to decorate his base quarters.” The Times cited a Marine Corps Inspector General’s investigation of the general, which found that Brigadier General Adams’ actions amounted to “a dereliction of duty.” The letter of reprimand effectively ended any chance for career advancement, inevitably leading to his retirement.
Only a few months after Colonel Sabow’s suspected murder, the Agency for Toxic Disease Registry (ATSDR) in March 1991 paid a visit to El Toro as part of the requirement to conduct a public health assessment of the Superfund site. ATSDR reported that El Toro represented “an indeterminate public health hazard because of the limited amount of on-station data available on environmental contamination and human exposures.” El Toro had no TCE usage records. Later engineering reports would show a great deal of TCE at Site 24, the home of the MWSG-37, the site of two huge maintenance hangers, the source of the TCE plume spreading into Orange County, and the site used to load and offload unmarked civilian aircraft transporting guns and drugs.
CAMP LEJEUNE’s WELLS
The contamination at Camp Lejeune’s wells covers a 30 year period from 1957 until 1987. Toxic chemicals like TCE, perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride and benzene were found in Lejeune’s well water. TCE levels in the drinking water were among the highest found in the country. EPA’s MCL for TCE is 5 parts per billion. At Lejeune, 1,400 parts per billion were detected in the drinking water. Over 30 years after the contaminated wells were shut down, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is investigating whether birth defects and cancers are related to exposure to TCE.
With the exception of Camp Lejeune, there is no legal requirement for the government to notify Veterans of MCAS El Toro and the other military installations on the National Priority List (NPL) of their possible exposure to hazardous substances and their health effects.
Senator Elizabeth Dole (R, NC) introduced an amendment to 2007 Defense Authorization Act, requiring the Secretary of the Navy to notify those who may have been possibly exposed to Camp Lejeune contaminated wells (1957 to 1987). Veterans of the other military installations on the NPL, a listing of the most hazardous sites in the United States, must search the EPA Superfund database to obtain a list of the COCs they may have been exposed to and their health effects. Many have no clue that the military installation they lived and worked on are among the most hazardous sites in the U.S.
The contaminated base wells at Camp Lejeune were shut down but the health effects of those exposed to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the well water continues to be felt today. As much as 500,000 to 1,000,000 people at Camp Lejeune were exposed to the contaminated wells over a 30 year period. MCAS El Toro’s lack of on-station data makes it much more difficult to estimate the health effects of exposure to contaminants and the history of the base wells is incomplete due to missing engineering drawings, pumping records and other documentation.
A number of Congressional hearings were held on Camp Lejeune’s contaminated wells. Senator Daniel Akaka (D, HI), the former Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs, said that the Marine Corps had been less than forthcoming about Camp Lejeune.
Some have accused the Marine Corps running a Public Relations campaign instead of aggressively addressing a major Public Health problem.
The Marine Corps’ leadership continues to deny any association between the contaminated drinking water and injuries and deaths.
A Few Good Men, Too Many Chemicals can be purchased from Kindle. You don’t need a Kindle to read the book; it can be download with Amazon’s software to any PC for $2.99 or viewed for free on a Kindle device from May to August.
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