Could I Have Been Exposed to Toxins at Ft. McClellan?
Fort McClellan, Alabama is a chemical exposure nightmare in the United States. The military installation served dual purposes as a training center and scientific research ground. The research was on some of the most volatile chemical, biological, and radioactive compounds that the US military used. As the US prepared to enter WWI, President Wilson purchased the property. Fort McClellan was used as a center for army training and to mobilize troops headed off to the Great War.
After the armistice, the base was a demobilization station until 1922. At that point, its long history in the training of chemical warfare began. The primary assignment was to train Chemical Warfare Service Officers who inspected the installation’s suitability for chemical warfare agents training.
In 1999, Congress closed the installation under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) legislation. This legislation required environmental cleanup before the transfer of the property to public domain status. So, almost 100 years after the creation of Fort McClellan, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) investigated the base. ATSDR found the property is not a hazard to those living near it. Specifically, it reported, “not expected to result in increased cancer risk or other harmful health effects in people living in the neighborhoods outside the perimeter of the former PCB manufacturing facility (Monsanto).”
Toxic Exposure at Fort McClellan
Beginning in the 1920’s Ft. McClellan stored polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), sulfur mustard, white phosphorus, plutonium, Agent Orange, Agent Blue, uranium, Napalm-B, nerve agents, blister agents, Cesium (Cs-137), and Cobalt. These toxins where stored at Fort McClellan as they waited to be destroyed in the incinerator. While waiting to be destroyed, toxins were kept in containers which ended up leaking into the soil, creeks, streams, and aquifers that fed the wells at Fort McClellan.
From the 1940’s to the 1970’s additional contamination at Fort McClellan occurred as a result of the Monsanto Plant in nearby Anniston, Alabama. Monsanto was the world’s largest biotech corporation and knowingly dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into Anniston’s landfill and creek.
Fort McClellan’s toxic exposure history is long and potential exposures to veterans may be hard to track. In addition to the government, it involved outside industry as well as the US Army’s own chemical, biological, and radioactive compounds. Starting in the 1920s, Fort McClellan and Anniston, Alabama, were home to a host of deadly chemicals such as
- polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs),
- tear gas,
- mustard gas,
- white phosphorus,
- Cobalt (Co-60),
- Cesium (Cs-137)
- Agent Orange,
- nerve agents
- blister agents.
Over 600,000 troops were exposed between 1927 and 1999 to an array of toxins. They received exposure both through direct exposure or indirect exposure. The direct exposure was in chemical weapons training. The indirect exposure was through the air, soil, and water that the toxins polluted. The pollution came from both the installation and the nearby Monsanto plant. Monsanto settled a class-action lawsuit with the local community residents of Anniston, AL in 2003, but veterans who lived and trained at the fort were not included in that lawsuit. Read about additional superfund cleanup sites at Army and Air Force bases in our blog “Is Jet Fuel Another Agent Orange?”
The Fort McClellan toxins have numerous health issues connected to exposure. Even the VA admits these problems. While none of these are presumptive as the VA has admitted that some soldiers that served there were exposed. Namely:
- S. Army Chemical Corp School (Army Chemical School),
- Women’s Army Corps,
- Army Combat Development Command/Chemical/Biological/Radiological Agency,
- Army Military Police School
What Illnesses are Associated with these Toxins?
Exposure to the specific compounds listed on the VA website as specific to Fort McClellan and their potential effects are as follows:
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs):
- Skin conditions,
- liver damage/cancer, anemia,
- thyroid gland injuries,
- changes in the immune system, behavioral alterations, and impaired reproduction.
- Sulfur Mustard:
- long-term respiratory problems,
- lower sperm count,
- respiratory cancers.
- Nerve Gas Agents:
- tightness in the chest,
- excessive salivation,
- abdominal cramps,
- blurred vision,
- Agent Orange: Fort McClellan veterans do not get presumptive Agent Orange exposure. Even though an Army report conceded massive use of Agent Orange. Between 1974 and 1976, the Army dumped nearly 30,000 gallons of Agent Orange at the base. Agent Orange exposure is linked to:
- Parkinson’s disease,
- Hodgkin’s disease,
- Diabetes Type II,
- Peripheral Neuropathy (early-onset),
- Prostate Cancer,
- respiratory cancers.
- Agent Blye:
- Bladder cancer,
- stomach cancer,
- lymphatic cancers,
- lung cancers,
- skin cancers,
- liver cancer
- Cobalt (Co-60): High levels of Cobalt exposure can cause changes in the genetic materials within cells and may result in the development of some types of cancers.
- Cesium: Large amounts of Cesium can damage cells in the body.
- Uranium: Kidney damage from ingestion, increased probability of cancers.
- Plutonium: Cancers of the bones, lungs, and liver, impaired immune system.
Please note, the above conditions are not an exhaustive list of the health effects related to exposure to the toxins at Fort McClellan.
What do I do about a Fort McClellan exposure claim now?
We still don’t know about the long-term health effects of many of the chemical and biological agents that were used. An independent medical opinion helps identify the health conditions and linking those conditions to the toxins from the base.
The VA does admit that some members of the “US Army Chemical Corp School, Army Combat Development Command, Chemical/Biological/Radiological Agency, Army Military Police School, and Women’s Army Corps, among others, may have been exposed to one or more of several hazardous materials, likely at low levels, during their service at Fort McClellan.” However, the VA has not established any regulation that would give presumptive service connection for conditions related to Fort McClellan exposure.
The Fort McClellan Health Registry Act was introduced to Congress by the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. The act directs VA to create a registry for military personnel and veterans who served at Fort McClellan between Jan. 1, 1935 and May 20, 1999, and who:
- Applied for care or serviced from the VA;
- Files a claim for compensation on the basis of any disability which may be associated with their service at Fort McClellan;
- Dies and is survived by a spouse, child, or parent who files a claim for dependency and indemnity compensation on the basis of such service;
- Requests a health exam from the VA; or
- Receives a health exam from the VA and requests inclusion into the Registry.
The legislation has been waiting since it was introduced on June 2, 2015.
Claims related to exposure at Fort McClellan can be difficult, but NOT impossible to win. One of the most important things you can do to make your claim as strong as it can be is obtaining a medical opinion. This medical opinion should include scientific and medical research that explains how a condition is related to the veteran’s exposure. Remember, the evidence only has to show that it is at least as likely as not that a condition is related to the exposure.
If you are a veteran pursuing veterans’ disability benefits through the VA for Fort McClellan toxic exposure, the team at Hill & Ponton is available to help. We focus on veterans disability and social security law, so our clients can avoid financial hardship and other challenges. Contact us today for a free case evaluation!
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