Fort McClellan was an Army installation in Alabama that opened in 1917. It was also the storied home to the Army Chemical School, the only military facility in the U.S. where live chemical weapons training occurred as part of the Army’s chemical warfare unit. Among the chemicals tested were sulfur mustard as well as nerve agents. Today, it no longer exists as an Army base. In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency shut down the base, labeling it a hazardous site. The area is so toxic that it is illegal to sink a well in the surrounding communities.
“EPA placed a portion of the Depot on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1989. In 1990, EPA and the Army agreed to address the entire Depot under the Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) programs. The Army, EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) have investigated site conditions and taken steps to clean up the Depot in order to protect people and the environment from contamination.”
According to various reports, not only was the base contaminated from within, but also from a nearby corporation – Monsanto.
“Next to Ft. McClellan is a small town called Anniston, Alabama. Even if you never heard of the base, the name of the community may ring a bell. In 2003, chemical giant Monsanto settled a case with more than 20,000 residents of the town for $700 million dollars. The suit alleged the company, now operating locally as Solutia, contaminated the water, soil and air so thoroughly and so recklessly with PCB’s and other toxins for decades, 60 Minutes and others have called the area the most toxic place on the planet. One of the others making that claim is the EPA, which has listed the community at the top of its Superfund Sites in need of cleanup.”
PCB has been linked to a higher risk of a range of diseases, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and reduced IQ and suppressed immune system function in children. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled it as a known human carcinogen.
A Washington Times article from 2015 reveals the bureaucratic quagmire that many contaminated military base communities face. The hurdle expressed in this quote is simple – money.
“The cost of attempting to identify all these individuals, including the cost of media advertising, would be a significant burden on the Army’s budget and at a time when the Army is furloughing personnel due to a shortage of funds,” Elizabeth King, the Pentagon’s top liaison to Congress, wrote in an internal email to a House staffer in 2013.
Ms. King goes further and reveals one of the usual red herrings presented at other bases such as Camp Lejeune – smoking as a confounding factor:
“Considering that virtually every service member will have been exposed to something (including cigarette smoke) during their stationing at the former Fort McClellan, it is unclear what benefit such an open-ended survey would provide,” Ms. King wrote, placing the blame for any contamination on PCBs and not the Army’s chemical weapons. “Lastly, the proposed amendment would generate a significant financial and resource burden upon the Army,” Ms. King said.
According to the VA, potential exposures could have included, but are not limited to, the following:
- Radioactive compounds (cesium-137 and cobalt-60) used in decontamination training activities in isolated locations on base.
- Chemical warfare agents (mustard gas and nerve agents) used in decontamination testing activities in isolated locations on base.
- Airborne polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the Monsanto plant in the neighboring town.
“Because its molecular structure resists being broken down, PCB in the environment is very difficult to eliminate. To destroy it, the contaminated soil would have to be incinerated, which is costly. Now, PCB-contaminated soil is being stored in landfills that are lined on the bottom and the top to prevent leakage into the soil and groundwater. For both women and men, PCB has especially long-lasting effects through disruption of the endocrine system. After high exposure, young girls have been shown to reach puberty earlier. A pregnant woman can transfer PCBs to her children during gestation or through breastfeeding. For men, there is strong evidence that exposure in utero increases the risk of birth defects of the male reproductive system. Men also experience reductions in testosterone, and sperm count may be lower.” (Fox News)
Contaminants of concern include antimony, chromium, lead, thallium and trichloroethylene (TCE).
- EPA Superfund Page on Fort McClellan, Alabama
- VA Page on Fort McClellan, Alabama
- Toxic Vets – The Poisonous Legacy of Ft. McClellan
- 1995 US Army Environmental Center “Final” Report*
- Pentagon puts budget concerns ahead of Fort McClellan troops’ welfare
- Fox News Report – McClellan Contamination
*Note: Nothing is ever “final” with regard to victim exposure and ensuing health issues.