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 share-@-civilianexposure.org.
The Marshall Islands Atomic Cleanup of 1977-1980 was a Joint Task Force of military and non-military personnel, during the atomic cleanup all personnel lived on two military bases. One base was hastily placed back in service, it had been the military base on Enewetak Island used during the 1948-1958 US nuclear weapons testing program. The other base was a temporary labor camp built on Lojwa Island where I lived in what I call a tin shed with bunk beds. Both military bases relied on desalinated water.
As young men and teenagers, we were given a futile and dangerous task to ‘cleanup’ the nuclear fallout and debris of 43 atmospheric nuclear weapon tests. We attempted to gather the highest level of radioactive material and dump it into a nuclear blast crater. We dumped 110,000 cubic yards into a nuclear blast crater on Runit Island before covering it under a massive concrete containment dome.
The other radioactive nuclear fallout and debris were simply dumped into the lagoon in violation of Environmental Protections laws covering drinking water and likely violated the 1972 International Treaty on the prohibition of ocean dumping.
Like many if not most of the surviving atomic cleanup personnel, I suffer from a degenerative bone condition. Compared to the general public, less than 1% of American men under the age of 65 suffer from bone density issues. In addition to the radiogenic diseases and illnesses that we are suffering from, why do we also suffer from degenerative bones?
Over 700,000 cubic yards of contaminated material were dumped into the very same lagoon our drinking water was drawn from. Massive amounts of toxins were re-suspended during the illegal lagoon dumping contaminating our drinking water before it was diluted into the ocean or sank to the bottom of the lagoon. The Department of Energy acknowledges 471 radioactive and non-radioactive elements were on these islands and this does not include those from the biological weapon testing
I was a radiochemist and a health physics technician working for a Department of Energy contractor. While living and working on the islands I was collecting soil samples as team leader of the radiological survey in 1978. Additionally, I was a radiochemist analyzing bioassay and environment samples for the atomic cleanup. Back home at the laboratory, I performed the urinalysis of strontium-90 for the atomic cleanup personnel.
I know with absolute certainty our drinking water was contaminated with strontium-90 because I performed the analysis and found strontium-90 in our urine. Our water would also have been contaminated with many other toxins, including cesium -137.
Strontium-90 is not only a radioactive carcinogen; it is also a known bone seeker. The toxic chemical health effects are in addition to the element being radioactive. The dumping of contaminated soil and debris into the very lagoon we got our drinking water was grossly negligent. As a radiochemist, I know the distillation desalination process would not remove many toxins such as strontium-90 and cesium -137.
Cesium -137 becomes soluble at room temperature and would not be removed by the distillation desalination process. I believe some cesium is still in our bodies, for those of us that have somehow lived long enough, blood vessels become less elastic with age. The smallest blood vessels in the human body are in the brain where cesium would get trapped. Another health issue many cleanup survivors suffer from is mini-strokes and I have had three.
But wait, in the document above plutonium -239 was also found in the filter! This is one of the deadliest elements on earth, so why am I not focusing on plutonium? Well, maybe because it is so frightening I have convinced myself that unlike some toxins the plutonium could have been removed during the distillation process. However, some of our urine also showed positive for plutonium as we also had contamination from other pathways into our bodies.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) ignores the many documents about the contaminated water and also ignores documentation about the failed dosimetry program. DTRA has not accepted our firsthand accounts or photos as it falsely claims we wore radiation protection. DTRA also falsely claims islanders are now living on the islands but the very islands where I lived and worked are still quarantined. During the atomic cleanup, DTRA was responsible for our failed radiation safety program and continues to fabricate false ‘Fact Sheets’ as it officially claims ‘we were not exposed’.
DTRA’s false statements become the government’s policy and guidelines and then refuse to recognize our debilitating health issues as being caused by toxic and radiological exposure during the atomic cleanup. My osteoporosis, mini-strokes, scarred lungs, fried intestines, chromosomal damage resulting in miscarriages, and more are not recognized.
DTRA’s false narrative is the roadblock that both the Department of Labor uses to deny civilian exposure and the Veterans Administration uses to deny military exposure, leaving us without proper healthcare or compensation. Not even the meager ‘military only’ Bill for parity with atomic veterans have not been able to get passed in Congress during the past seven years.
‘Parity’ with the 1940s-1950s atomic veterans leaves out about two-thirds of what is today are known radiogenic diseases, ignores the chemical and biological weapon exposure, and completely ignores the illnesses caused by the drinking water contamination. This Bill would only cover a few of the military personnel and leaves out all of the non-military personnel. If the Bill in Congress were to ever get passed, it would create more harm than good as it would not be enough and leaves out so many.
The US Department of Defense has a list of over 100 contaminated bases. The Lojwa Island Base is not mentioned, yet conceivably it is the most contaminated military base on earth. Should this military base not be the most contaminated then the implication is very frightening.
My plight, knowledge, and firsthand experience leave me realizing that our government is not being truthful about the true extent of radiation and toxic exposure. I fear there must be other contaminated sites and many others facing similar denials.
Note: This is a personal story of exposure submitted to our website. The account is posted verbatim, without edit, for informative purposes.
Click to Subscribe to the Civilian Exposure Newsletter for Latest News & Updates Today!