Toxic Wastes on Shemya AFB – Aleutian Islands, AK

The following is a personal story submitted to Civilian Exposure and published as part of our new series: “Contamination Chronicles: Personal Stories of Exposure”. If you would like to submit your story, you may fill out our form here or send directly via email to [email protected]


 

I was at Shemya AFB wherein “clean-up” began very early 1992 or very late 1991. I was based there for 13 months without ever leaving during that period.  I could never leave the base on leave or vacation. The base had a few drinking water crises in the face of full knowledge of the heavily contaminated soil created by the 20,000+ US Army troops stationed there in the very early 1940’s.

Our water in 1991-1992 (and before and after these dates) came from a reverse cistern arrangement wherein summer humidity/dew on the tundra grass and winter snow melt drained by gravity into the top soil and deeper, where it was captured at or near sea level on the south coast of the island as it trickled down from the north edge of the island, hundreds of feet higher. Simple gravity mechanism.

The base had JUST identified toxic substances in 1991. I and 900+ active duty troops, as well as about 75 civilian personnel, during a water pumps’ failure on the cistern mechanism, had to drink water for 7-10 days (and cook w/ it) from a rusty, above ground, huge water holding tank, sealed since ~ 1944, and containing water just as old.

Microbiology (plating water samples from this full, WW-II war tank onto appropriate agar) revealed no bacteria but our small medical aid station had no way to analytically or organically test for ANY safe or toxic chemical(s). We could not chemically test it for amines, benzene, arsenic, lead, iron or any other noxious chemicals, as our water crisis was an emergency. I was the only M.D. on Shemya from Aug. 1991 thru Sep. 1992 and wasn’t able to ever leave the base for that 1+ year as it would leave 900+ people at risk. I personally tested 4-5 1943 water samples bacteriologically. I found no aerobic or anaerobic bacterial growth, so we had to assume chemical toxicity was not a concern…but was it??

I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2013. I have to be cystoscoped every 6-12 months as this cell type of cancer has a recurrence rate of ~100%. I have little sympathetic control over my urination, have to void 4-6 times nightly, and urinating has become more of a “gravity” process rather than bladder muscular contraction effect. I assume this is due to my urinary bladder surgical extirpation. I have no obvious risk factors for developing urinary bladder transitional cell carcinoma. I have never smoked. I have never had the parasite schistosomiasis. I have had no prolonged, occupational contact w/ amines, acrylics, benzene, paints, dyes, coloring agents, gasoline, petroleum products, etc., nor any chemotherapy or radiation exposure.

Bladder cancer always recurs and thus I have to be urethroscoped each 4-6 months until I die. I also developed cataracts and severe hypopharyngeal gastric reflux, and near exhaustion for the past 17 years.

I am not alleging that I was a victim of environmental wastes/toxins whilst on Shemya. I just wonder how many of the 900+ troops and civilians have reported serious medical problems and if EPA (or other agencies) will ever release to us or the public if any dioxin, PCB’s, or dangerous inorganic or organic substances had been discovered on Shemya from the beginning of the “cleanup” in late 1991 until now?

I also often wonder if ANYONE, including the EPA or any other government agency, has studied the long-term health of USAF and civilian personnel assigned to Shemya AFB before or after late 1991 or 1992. Is there a “cancer bank” registry of all the thousands of troops who have served on Eareckson (Shemya) AFB since 1943/44 up to this year (2017)??  Who would have a verifiable record of any and all civilians and troops ever stationed on Shemya of subsequent development of renal, urethral, prostate, or urinary bladder cancer?

 


Note from the Editor: The author is retired and currently resides in Florida. The account/editorial is verbatim from the author without edit, with only the omission of their name to preserve anonymity.

 

 

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A 20-year veteran of media, marketing, non-profits and entrepreneurship, Gavin P. Smith leads Civilian Exposure, a non-profit assisting civilians and veterans exposed to U.S. military contamination; the Keta Foundation, a collaborative foundation dedicated to mitigating modern slavery through economic improvement projects in Africa; and Gavin Consulting, a network of virtual experts serving global clients; He is also a former member of the CDC/ATSDR Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel. Mr. Smith holds a Master of Global Management with distinction (Beta Gamma Sigma) from Thunderbird School of Global Management, an MBA from The College of William & Mary Mason School of Business and a BA in History from Wake Forest University.

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