by Ed Mattson
This week marked an interesting turn of events from my latest series of articles involving Veterans exposure to Agent Orange (AO) and Depleted Uranium (DU) from the Gulf War and the Iraq-Afghanistan Wars. I received an assignment to look into a major stonewalling by the VA and DOD regarding the dumping and possible illegal handling of toxic waste, radiation weaponry, and the unsafe use of “burn pits” exposing ten of thousands of military personnel and innocent civilians at the now decommissioned George AFB in California. The base was listed as a Superfund site on February 21, 1990.
After spending the better part of this day reading a number of reports and the stories of several “victims”, I am confident that there has been a complete cover-up, which, following this month’s disclosures of government secrecy, spying, stonewalling on virtually every inquiry into government misconduct, only reinforces suspicion of gross mismanagement and makes one wonder if the government will ever get things right and tell the truth about anything. It is downright frightening that an attitude seems to prevail throughout the federal government, that they are impervious to being held accountable for their actions and inactions, deceit, cover-ups, and countless other actions, criminal or otherwise.
George Air Force Base was officially decommissioned in December 1992. In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced a “Five Part Plan” to speed economic recovery in communities where military bases were to be closed. One part of this plan called for improving public participation in the base’s environmental cleanup program. George AFB was among a number of installations where environmental cleanup was placed on a “fast track” so base property could be quickly transferred to the community for reuse. Many of the old base housing homes and buildings are currently used by the Army and Marine Corps for urban warfare training. Additionally, the three-prison Federal Correctional Complex, Victorville is located on some of the base’s former lands.
For someone trying to gain information about the clean-up of sites like George AFB, it is apparently more difficult than walking through a minefield blindfolded according to Mr. Frank Vera, a Veteran who has been plagued with four decades of health problems since he was stationed at the air base. Even armed with FOIA’s (Freedom of Information Act requests), Franks has been stonewalled, delayed, and shoveled back and forth, a routine so many Veterans recognize as a standard operating procedure at all levels of government.
After following the battles tens of thousands of Vietnam Veterans have had in dealing with the VA and DOD regarding 40 years of stonewalling over Agent Orange, this should come as no surprise. For the Vietnam Veteran first, it was about getting the government to even acknowledge that the main ingredient of Agent Orange (AO), dioxin, was a hazard to one’s health; second, that the long-term effects of exposure have caused and will continue to cause a myriad of illnesses and birth defects for generations to come; third, in gaining recognition for the claims for long-term disability are justifiable; fourth, identifying all the locations where AO was transported, stored, mixed, used, and disposed of; fifth whether or not every disposal effort was performed following official guidelines; sixth, that there has been sufficient follow-up that the toxic clean-ups have been completed successfully; and finally realizing there are tens of thousands of Veteran cases and claims that have yet to be addressed. This borders on criminal neglect.
Mr. Vera, as have his Brothers in Arms who have come before him, is facing a most formidable foe in battling the US Government Apparatchik. As we Veterans have yet to write a step by step guideline about how to get through the barriers that are thrown-up in fighting for justice, Frank is left to reinvent the wheel once again. Remarkably and in spite of almost non-stop illness, he has done a formidable job in developing a website for all survivors of George AFB. As a Veteran myself, it is difficult for me to fathom that those who are willing to put their lives on the line in defending the country can be even more at risk of losing their health and life at their base duty station at home. To those who have never served, they have no idea of the perils that may await our military once they come home…the silence of our government is deafening.
Looking closely at the George AFB situation, a simple question begs for answers…”Did the Department of Defense (DOD) misrepresent the nature and extent of the environmental contamination at George Air Force Base, CA?”
Mr. Vera and others who served at George believe the answer is Yes. For an in depth review of why there is such mistrust in the government assessment and clean-up attempt, all one has to do is spend a few minutes and follow the complicated trail of bureaucracy in action, a maze of report-after-report, and then understand that even though millions of dollars have been doled out by the government, there is no evidence that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry ever interviewed Dr. John Richard Sabol. Dr. Sabol was the Chief Environmental & Contracting Programming / Community Planner / Construction Engineer for George Air Force Base, CA from June 1976 to February 1981.
None of his environmental reports or investigations are in the George AFB Administrative Record, yet Mr. Vera is in possession of a statement of facts from Dr.Sabol testifying that he oversaw a search for radioactive contamination at George AFB and located 18 to 20 barrels of radioactive material. No mention at all in the government reports.
Source: Dr. Sabol’s Curriculum Vita
Reading through the below links will lead you to conclude the clean-up at George AFB, has been willfully designed to hinder investigation, in total contempt of the “people’s right to know”, and in complete disregard to the safety of those who were stationed at George AFB and the neighboring civilian population…
- Exposure Pathways: The DOD knew that the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) came to a flawed conclusion in their 1 December 1998 report “Health Assessment for George AFB,” section “Evaluation of Groundwater Exposure Pathway”. This was because the ATSDR was not supplied with a report by the DOD and/or did not fully understand the nature and extent of the contamination, locations of the IRP (Installation Restoration Program) sites, hydrology (direction of the groundwater flow, north-east), and the location (within 500 feet to a ¼ mile upstream) of the water supply wells for George AFB, Adelanto, private homes, and the former Victor Valley Country Club.
Note: Because the DOD did not correct the ATSDR during the Peer Review / Public Comments period or after the report was published in 1998, the DOD lied by omission.
- Children: Mr. Vera’s website has received dozens of personal accounts about miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects, and childhood cancers at George Air Force Base. George AFB’s potentially high; infant mortality, birth-defects, and/or high childhood cancer rate were not reported to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) for the Health Assessment of George AFB.
- Drinking Water: George Air Force Base had about 14 Installation Restoration Program (IRP) sites (unpermitted dump-sites and unpermitted burn pits) within 500 feet to a mile upstream of the drinking water supply wells for George AFB, Adelanto, private homes, and the former Victor Valley Country Club. The Air Force acknowledges that these 14 IRP sites contain the following: the outflow from the sewage treatment plant, aviation gas, tetraethyl lead, VOCs, weapons’ residue, heavy metals; industrial, chemical, and/or radioactive waste.
- Burn Pits and Incinerators George Air Force Base had several burn pits and two old style incinerators (without an air scrubber to remove toxic chemicals). The known carcinogens and respiratory sensitizers that were released into the atmosphere by the burn pits and incinerators present both acute and chronic health hazards to civilians, and military personnel and their family members. Again, the DOD and Air Force failed to notify the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) of this potential exposure pathway for the 1988 report.
Note: A list of possible contaminants released into the environment at these disposal burn centers includes: acetaldehyde, acrolein, arsenic, benzene, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, dichlorofluoromethane, dioxins, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, various heavy metals (lead, cadmium, and mercury), nitrogen dioxide, phosgene, sulfuric acid, sulfur dioxide, toluene, trichloroethane, trichloropropane, and xylene.
See: Burn Pit Health Hazards Memo. Though this report relates to Balad Airbase in Iraq, it is no less relevant that all these years and experience we have had domestically in dealing with toxic waste, we continue to follow those old practices abroad. This shows the utter contempt by the government for the safety of our troops and the civilian population in the areas surrounding our efforts at waste disposal.
Getting back to Mr. Vera’s personal story…While stationed at George AFB, Mr. Vera had a string of unfortunate experiences starting with a freak accident in which a 1,500-pound M61A1 Vulcan gun system from an F4E was dropped on him. Following four other on-base accidents he was given poor legal advice when he was referred to the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office about seeking a medical discharge versus leaving the military under an honorable discharge. For the last 39 years, he has been doing what tens of thousands of Vietnam era Veterans have been doing, fighting the endless battle with the VA over disability compensation, homelessness, and medical coverage. This and more I will share with you in next week’s closing article on “View from being thrown under the bus”.
Posted by Ed Mattson on June 23, 2013, With 2586 Reads Filed under Corruption, Of Interest. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.