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Fort McClellan, Alabama  -  A US Army military post (closed now as an active Army installation) located adjacent to the town of Anniston, Alabama.  It was once the home of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), the US Army Military Police School, and the US Army Chemical School.  It was also an Army Basic Training Center.

Monsanto - A large multi-national biotechnology corporation.  Known for creating and/or producing various pesticides and herbicides over the years, including DDT, Agent Orange, and PCBs.

PCBs - Polychlorinated Biphenyls.  According to Wiki:  "PCBs were widely used as coolant fluids, in transformers, capacitors, and electric motors. Due to PCBs' toxicity and classification as a persistent organic pollutant, PCB production was banned by the US Congress in 1979. Concerns about the toxicity of PCBs are largely based on compounds within this group that share a structural similarity and toxic mode of action with dioxin.   Toxic effects such as endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity are also associated with other compounds within the group."

Me - That would be myself.  Female, over 50, retired from the Army (now working in a civilian job).  Cold War Veteran.  I started off as an MP (Military Police) for 3 years and then switched jobs to Russian Linguist.  I was stationed for about 8 years in Germany and deployed once - to Kosovo.  I began my Army life at Basic Training in Ft. McClellan, Alabama.

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I joined the Army back in 1983 for many reasons, personal, financial and patriotic.  I had been working in minimum wage-type jobs for about 7 years after graduating high school, and I was frustrated with barely making enough to make ends meet.  I wanted to see the world, travel, and to go to college, but I knew I would never be able to do it saving nickels and dimes from my low-wage jobs.   I also had the belief that everyone should do some form of public service - neighborhood volunteer, social action, or the military.  My parents had met each other serving in the Air Force in the early 1950s. During my high school years I was actually anti-war and a bit of a hippie, and I first applied to join the Peace Corps.  But they only took people with “experience” and college degrees.  I’m not even sure what caused me to walk into the Army recruiting office.  I initially signed up for Military Police (MP) because I had the strange idea that it would help me become a social worker, which is what I wanted to do when I intended to get out in 3 years.  Boy, was I wrong (those silly recruiters).   But that’s another long story.

Basic training.  After a brief day of inprocessing and paperwork in Denver (I was originally from Boulder), I was put on a plane with a group of other recruits, and we were flown to Birmingham, Alabama.  From there a bus picked us up and drove us to Ft. McClellan to begin One Station Unit Training (OSUT), which was 8 weeks of basic and 8 weeks of MP training combined.   In my (first) unit we had about 20 women and 140 men.  I have an old journal that I kept back then; Unfortunately I didn’t write very much - nothing profound or eloquent.  Just a lot of frustration and impatience like:  “God I hate this place”, “Only 35 days to go”, “Only 34 days to go”, “God, I hate this place”, “Just get me out of here”, along with some miscellaneous profanity (I never used profanity prior to the Army).

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       Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) training

Two weeks into training I got sick, and was put in the hospital for 3 days with a URI (Upper Respiratory Infection).  It was like having a bad cold with a fever.  I wasn’t the only one who was sick - there were probably 20-30 other basic trainees from various units in the hospital with the same bug.  I returned to my training unit 3 days later much lighter and weaker, and unfortunately I had missed too many classes, which meant I was  “recycled” to another unit (started back in the beginning again).  

Five weeks into the next training cycle, I started having pains in my left hip.  We had to run everywhere we went, so my pain got exponentially worse with each day.  After living on thousands of milligrams of Motrin (it seemed), I ended up back at the hospital again -  with a hip stress fracture.  This time I spent 4 weeks in the hospital, and then I was put on “medical hold” for about 5 months.  I was sent to live in the special “medical hold” barracks, which was in a historic part of Ft. McClellan, complete with mold and rotting wood paneling.  I could imagine World War II soldiers living there at one time.   While there, I met others soldiers, stuck in the same Army limbo-of-nowhere.  Most of them got out.  I hung in there and returned to training again.

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       Me - such a happy camper back in those days

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       Barracks life - 20 Women sharing the same room

The third time I finally made it through.  It took me a whole year to graduate from my 16-week OSUT training.  I left Ft. McClellan, Alabama never wanting to see or think about the place again.  In 1999, Fort McClellan was closed permanently as an active Army post.

27 Years Later

A couple of weeks ago I received a couple of alarming e-mails about the creation of a new Health Registry for Fort.McClellan veterans who might have been exposed to toxic chemicals while stationed there.  It is The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act and it covers the period beginning January 1, 1935, and ending on May 20, 1999.  The main activist (Sue Frasier) states:  

“It is important for the public to know that we are REQUIRED to have this legislation as a matter of medical process to get the veterans into treatment from toxic exposures from Fort McClellan, Alabama. The list of contaminations is both fixed and documented by environmental reports. TCE contamination in the public drinking water of Anniston, PCB air contamination from the Monsanto Air Disaster,  Asbestos contamination from the WWII barracks facilities of the women, PCB's on the base from a leeching landfill that was never properly capped. Then there was radiological Cobalt lead contamination on Pelham Range.”

WTF?  I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic, and my first reaction to this was that this is might just be a group of old Vets, looking to blame someone for diabetes or arthritis or some “old age” disease that everyone eventually gets.  I do still have a couple of numb patches on my legs (nerve damage) from those days, but I think I’m fairly healthy.  I decided to do some research.

What I found - is that there are countess horror stories about toxic chemicals (primarily PCBs) around the environment in the Anniston, Alabama area, (the small town adjacent to Fort McClellan).  Here are just a few:

From the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

How did Monsanto avoid a pollution crackdown in Alabama?

Monsanto Knew About PCB Toxicity For Decades.

Monsanto in Alabama: Full Story

From The Washington Post:

Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution PCBs Drenched Ala. Town, But No One Was Ever Told.

From the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Air Sampling Results for PCBs Around Solutia Inc. Property in Anniston, Ala.

From the Organic Consumer's Assosiation:

When Cleaning Up Isn't Enough: Army Trying to Rid Anniston Army Depot of Toxic TCE

Monsanto Fined $700 Million for Poisoning People with PCBs

From the New York Times:

$700 Million Settlement in Alabama PCB Lawsuit

It looked like at least SOME residents of the local Anniston residents at least had their day in court.  But alas, the lawyers in the case seem to have gotten most of the money:

From the blog The Anniston Report, PCBs Are Not The Only Thing That Make You Sick they write about the “Anniston PCB litigation in which 8 lawyers were awarded $240 million in fees and expenses and the 21,000 victims were awarded $360 million”

I could go on with more articles, but they all cover pretty much the same things.  This settlement and the "investigations" occurred mostly during the Bush Administration and during the run-up to the Iraq War.  Did anybody really notice or care at the time?  Very doubtful.  In 1997, Monsanto spun off the Solutia Company, which took with it a lot of Monsanto’s environmental liabilities - including 50 years of Anniston PCB dumping.  Solutia filed for bankruptcy on December 17, 2003.  How convenient.  Solutia then emerged from bankruptcy on February 28, 2008.   It is now according to Wiki a multi-billion-dollar company (1.67 billion in annual revenues for 2009).  

Fort McClellan is located adjacent to Anniston.  The water for Fort McClellan was supplied from Anniston.  Many military people from the base lived in Anniston. There were health studies done of Anniston residents, but none (that I could find) of soldiers or dependents who passed through Fort McClellan.  Why were military members excluded from the studies?

A group of veterans and one Congressman (Sponsor: Rep. Paul Tonko [D-NY21) have begun the process of introducing a bill Fort McClellan Health Registry Act which will direct the VA to establish a registry of veterans who were stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama for the purpose of studying and/or treating illnesses associated with chemical exposure.
From Sue Frasier (the lead veteran in introducing this bill):

1. Barracks Asbestos Exposure
Up until between 1973 and 1976, the WAC Training Battallion was verifiably housed in World War II level barracks which were found to be in the 1990's, MEDIUM level ASBESTOS inside those buildings. After the WACS moved out, the same buildings were used for Enlisted mens barracks. The buildings have since been remediated.

2. Chemical Corps and Edgewood Test Veterans
What is known is that VX and SARIN gases were routinely released near the WAC Officers Candidate School which is across from one of the main Staging Fields for WAC Center. On the south end of the base and near the MP School, the Chemical Corps routinely held open air maneuvers up until 1971. They left or halted for a time, and then returned to build a new indoor facility and those tests were subsequently moved inside.

3. Leeching PCB's On The North End of the Base
To this very day, the entire access roads leading into Marshall Field of the former WAC Center are completely barricaded off. A World War II landfill was not properly capped.
The entire landfill area began leeching groundwater PCB's and that took over a stretch of land which extended past Highway 21 over into the town of WEAVER drinking water wells. Ground maneuvers on the north end of the base would be cause for claims skin or food contact with PCB's on the base itself.

4. The Pelham Range Radiological Contamination
In the mid-1990's, nuclear training rods of Cobalt Lead were found still lodged in the maneuver grounds of Pelham Range and reported on by the Environmental Protection Agency. That EPA report is included in this Tonko legislation collection. I would expect to see high dosing diseases such as cancers to come out of this particular causation scenario. Because it was so very well documented at the EPA, it was included in the coverage of the Paul Tonko legislation for Fort McClellan.

5. The Contaminated Anniston Water by The Army Depot
The Anniston Army Depot had been routinely dumping detergents holding the chemical TCE into the public drinking water supply of the town of Anniston.  All veterans from the base on LEAVE or PASS would have been affected. The EPA drinking water report is also included in this Forum report collection below for the Paul Tonko legislation.  TCE all by itself is not at all toxic, It is merely harmful if swallowed.  The contamination ended in the year 1987 so veterans with service after this time cannot claim TCE as a causation. The remediation by the EPA began in 1983 so there was a 4 year declining period in TCE content as the cleanup continued.

6. The Monsanto Air Disaster
Between around 1960 and 1971, the nearby Monsanto PCB Factory broken factory air stacks and it took their own pollution engineers a few years to get the matter under control. By the time they did, the damage was already done. Any other low level toxic exposures that were already at play with both veterans and the public, were doomed on this final PCB air dosing to suffer the kind of gene mutation that normally goes on with the onset of toxic exposure diseases.  This was a well documented AIR disaster and PCB's do NOT break down in the atmosphere. In the year 2006, the air in Anniston was still testing at toxic LEAD levels and Monsanto was named as the blame for the contamination source.  Autoimmune diseases among other things are the compelling signatures for PCB causation of diseases.

The Bill still NEEDS CO-Sponsors and support from more members in congress.  It appears to be dying in a "committee".

UPDATE on the civilian lawsuit: The Department of Justice has become involved in the civilian side of the case: Feds sue over $300M PCBs settlement in Alabama.  I'm wondering what happened to the original $700 Million?  "Of the $300 million, $129 million went to lawyers and $171 million went to plaintiffs"?  It was Monsanto vs. the poor mostly black residents of Anniston.  Why should I be surprised?

Originally posted to Military Community Members of Daily Kos on Mon Sep 05, 2011 at 09:51 AM PDT.

Also republished by WeeklyBUG and Community Spotlight.

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