For nearly eight decades Ft. Ord, California, located on pristine Malibu Bay, was a highly sought-after duty station for soldiers. Sparkling blue waters, mountainous sand dunes, and warm sunny days greeted troops who considered themselves lucky to be assigned there.
Still, soldiers being soldiers, the tasks they were ordered to perform within the confines of the Army forts secured perimeter was a form of payback for the pleasantries that awaited them outside the camp’s main gate when they were off duty.
One of the tasks was weapons disposal where soldiers discarded thousands of live hand grenades into a canyon affectionately called “Mortar Alley.” They were ordered to spray toxic chemicals on burn pits to cool down pieces of scrap metal and to help dissipate disposed solvents.
Harmful chemicals and toxic waste were poured down drains into underground tanks that were full of leaks. When it rained, the leaked toxins would find their way into the aquifers that supplied the fort’s drinking water. This went on for decades and was never questioned. The water smelled and tasted fine.
Ft. Ord was shut down in 1994 but this was four years after the Environment Protection Agency had labeled it as the single most polluted place in the entire nation. Analysis of the drinking water turned up dozens of toxic chemicals and cancer-causing agents, yet the Army allowed the troops to drink, bathe, and eat food cooked with it for four more years.
Decades after the fort’s closure, several veterans who had been assigned to Ft. Ord and had kept in touch, were diagnosed with cancer and rare blood disorders. They all had but one shared commonality so this led them to reach out on a Facebook page designed for veterans. They wanted to know if there were others.
The response was so great that they started a separate group for the hundreds of affirmative responses that were received. A few veterans had a pretty good suspicion concerning where their illnesses had first developed, but an astounding number of them had never put the pieces together. They just figured they were sick and let it go at that.
Here’s where the conflict arises. The Department of Defense won’t own up its blunder. Despite what was found in the water and the heavily saturated soil, they claim the levels were minimal and had never presented a health hazard. Get this. The DOD said the levels were too low to have caused “immediate” poisoning. This would indicate that what happened down the road was of no concern to them. Veterans have outlived their usefulness anyway.
However, scientists, doctors, and the Veteran Administrations own hazardous materials website, all adamantly disagree with the DOD. They all agree that military personnel and veterans both at home and abroad have all had some level of toxic exposure. The military brings pollution with them.
A review of public documents by The Associated Press found that the Army was fully aware of chemicals being improperly disposed of at Ft. Ord. They let it continue for decades even after the chemical contamination had been fully documented. The Army resorted to downplaying the risks.
In 1996, the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry underhandedly, and probably at the DODs direction, issued a report claiming that there are ‘likely’ no risks involved for anyone who had spent time at Ft. Ord.
Because of the report, veterans whose minds’ and bodies are decades later being devoured by cancer and deadly blood disorders from their time at Ft. Ord, are being denied benefits. Their claims are being rejected. Thank you for your service, now go away.
This has been the story of Ft. Ord. How many other U.S. veterans who were assigned elsewhere can backtrack their illnesses to where the military sent them? Hundreds? Maybe thousands?
Ft. Ord is only the start. Other military sites both past and present are now being scrutinized for toxicity levels and it’s mostly veterans who are doing the investigating. Veterans belong to an organization unlike any other. They share an unbreakable bond and many of them remain in touch in civilian life. They talk and they know how to put two and two together.
This is only the start. Our veterans deserve better.