Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth L. King – appointed to the post by President Barack Obama in 2009 – says the cost of notifying soldiers of possible exposure to toxins at Fort McClellan, Alabama is too high following the bases closure in 1999.
In an e-mail obtained by The Washington Times, King told Congress and the Pentagon that it would be a waste of money to alert hundreds of thousands of soldiers who served at the army base that they might have been exposed to toxins including chemical weapons and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is evidence that PCBs may cause cancer in humans.
In explaining her 2013 written recommendation to a House staffer, Ms. King wrote:
“Considering that virtually every service member will have been exposed to something… during their stationing at the former Fort McClellan, it is unclear what benefit such an open-ended survey would provide…
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,”
In other words, Army veterans who served at Fort McClellan – veterans that might have been gravely injured by exposure to chemical weapons testing and PCB’s – were not worth the price of a postage stamp.
According to The Washington Times, the memo “was written in response to unsuccessful efforts by Rep. Paul Tonko, (D-NY), to get legislation passed in the last Congress that would require notification to veterans who were stationed at Fort McClellan, in Anniston, Alabama, before it was closed for widespread contamination 15 years ago.”
Pentagon officials confirmed that the Defense Department doesn’t know how many soldiers served at Fort McClellan during the years it was being contaminated by chemical weapons or a nearby chemical plant.
Rep. Tonko said the government must do what is right by informing veterans of their possible exposure and offering them health solutions, regardless of the costs.
In a statement, Rep Tonko said:
“We plan to introduce our McClellan bill containing the same language as last Congress, but I have always been open to amendments, and I’m happy to have any discussion that moves this process forward for our veterans and their families.”
For the record, the EPA closed the base in 1999 declaring it a high-priority cleanup site because it “generated solid and liquid wastes that contaminated soil and ground water” and that a flyover of former base grounds at the time identified a hot spot where radiological materials had been buried.