Chemical Caused Nerve Damage to Military Base Workers

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Chemical Caused Nerve Damage to Military Base Workers

Alaska Health Report Cannot ID Agent, Urges Permanent Paving for Base Site

WASHINGTON - A long-delayed state health department report on a 2006 incident at
Alaska's Fort Wainwright finds that an unknown volatile chemical likely
inflicted nerve damage on workers. The draft report, posted today by
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), finds that the
chemical may be still present onsite and the area, now a parking lot,
"should not be disturbed at any time in the future" without alerting
environmental authorities. At least four workers were permanently
disabled and are still seeking compensation for medical bills.

The report by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
entitled "Chemical Exposure Incident at the Hangar 6 Construction Site
June 29th and 30th, 2006" has still not been finalized. In building
Aircraft Maintenance Hangar No. 6, a chemical was encountered by the
construction crew that caused more than 30 workers to require
hospitalization, at least 4 of whom continue to suffer disabilities.

Hangar
6 was built on the grounds of a 1940s-era structure that burnt down in
2004. Despite the fact that the site was a "designated Hazardous Waste
Accumulation point" the Corps of Engineers work-up stated "No
contaminated soils are suspected at this project location." When the
workers broke through a cap covering a black, oily substance they were
immediately overcome by nausea, headaches, and a host of other symptoms.
The state health report found -

  • An unknown, volatile chemical likely caused nerve damage to the disabled workers;
  • Even after the exposures, work continued on the site and was halted only upon discovery of an unexploded mortar shell; and
  • The exposure site, now a parking lot, likely poses no further damage unless it is disturbed.

"Construction
workers on American military bases play Russian roulette never knowing
if they will uncover a toxic nightmare," stated PEER Executive Director
Jeff Ruch, noting that Fort Wainwright has been on the national
Superfund list since 1990 due to a myriad of contaminated sites. "Two
years after a designated hazardous waste site burned, the Army sent
workers to dig up the site with no warning or protective equipment.
What will stop the Army from sending workers to dig up this same site in
five or ten years with similar results?"

The state health
report was initiated in October 2006 and the draft was completed more
than four years later in November 2010. The reason for this inordinate
delay in finishing the draft is not publicly known and the draft was
obtained through a public records request by the attorney seeking to
obtain workers' compensation for the disabled construction crew. The
draft report is awaiting final approval from the federal Centers for
Disease Control, which helped finance the review.

A civil suit
by the workers against the U.S. Army was dismissed because the workers,
who were not federal employees but were employed by a private
contractor, were limited to state workers' compensation as their only
relief, yet have not been finally awarded that compensation.

"The
casualties at Hangar 6 were utterly avoidable," added Ruch, pointing to
similar incidents at Fort Wainwright that have also been left
unresolved. "The original negligence at the base, however, has been
compounded by government health authorities who have dawdled so long
that it appears to be a deliberate decision to render any review
irrelevant by the passage of time."

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Read the draft state health report

See the dismissed civil complaint

Look at the toxic fiasco at Fort Wainwright's Taku Gardens

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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