Note: ATSDR dismissed environmental health concerns in Lualualei, Pearl Harbor and the Depleted Uranium contamination at Schofield and Pohakuloa.
(1) ATSDR Withdraws Scientifically Flawed Public Health Document
(2) ATSDR pulls report; will there be others?
(3) US does about-face on Camp Lejeune’s tap water
ATSDR Withdraws Scientifically Flawed Public Health Document
For years, Camp Lejeune community activists have claimed ATSDR’s 1997 report used flawed data to support its conclusion that exposure to the detected levels of volatile organic compounds would not pose a health hazard for adults.
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) applauded the withdrawal of the public health assessment of Camp Lejeune’s drinking water system by a federal agency, but questioned whether there were assessments for other sites that should also be withdrawn. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a sister agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced this morning that it was withdrawing from its Web site the 1997 public health assessment at Camp Lejeune stating that it could no longer stand behind “the accuracy of the information concerning the drinking water exposure pathway evaluation.”
“This is a welcome step. But it took more than 10 years, pressure from Camp Lejeune activists, numerous press articles and Congressional hearings for this to happen,” said Miller. “Our military families have suffered needlessly because of ASTDR’s flawed work. But our hearings have revealed other sites for which questionable public health assessments were done.”
The Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee held two hearings based on concerns with ATSDR’s public health documents, ranging from its failures to appropriately access the dangers of formaldehyde in travel trailers used by survivors of Hurricane Katrina to its inadequate evaluation of exposures to depleted uranium by residents living near a depleted uranium plant in New York.
Chairman Miller called for the agency to review those other health assessments and withdraw those that could not stand up to a rigorous scientific review.
“Other steps are necessary to ensure that the agency’s future public health assessments are scientifically sound, achieve valid public health conclusions and are based on the most current set of data and information available,” said Miller. “Unfortunately, the Subcommittee’s investigation of ATSDR over the past year has found that is often not the case.”
For years, Camp Lejeune community activists have claimed ATSDR’s 1997 report used flawed data to support its conclusion that exposure to the detected levels of volatile organic compounds, including perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), as well as other toxic chemicals, such as benzene, would not pose a health hazard for adults. It was difficult to review ATSDR’s findings because, as detailed in a Subcommittee staff report released last month, ATSDR had lost many of the critical scientific documents and data upon which the agency had based its 1997 public health assessment.
“Over the past year, the Subcommittee has been examining how ATSDR permits the production of such scientifically flawed documents in the first place, and, frankly, we haven’t come up with a credible answer,” said Miller. “I hope that the agency’s decision to rescind the public health assessment on Camp Lejeune is a sign that the leadership of ATSDR is now willing to acknowledge the agency’s past mistakes and take measures to protect the public’s health in the future. While this is an encouraging sign, the administration and Congress need to be vigilant in overseeing this agency so that it implements its goal of protecting the public’s health.”
For more information, including on the Committee’s work on ATSDR, please visit the Committee’s website.
ATSDR pulls report; will there be others?
The House Science and Technology oversight subcommittee chairman cheered the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s decision to withdraw a 1997 public health assessment of Camp Lejeune’s drinking water.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., said, “This is a welcome step. But it took more than 10 years, pressure from Camp Lejeune activists, numerous press articles and Congressional hearings for this to happen. Our military families have suffered needlessly because of ATSDR’s flawed work. But our hearings have revealed other sites for which questionable public health assessments were done.”
The House subcommittee issued a report last month that was strongly critical of the ATSDR’s work, including public health assessments.
The federal agency has done a number of public health assessments in Oak Ridge, based on a review of historic pollution discharges at the Dept. of Energy’s plants. But, to date, those reports have not identified any serious health impacts related to releases of radioactive and toxic materials at Y-12, ORNL and K-25.
While the Oak Ridge reports have been criticized for their lack of findings, I’m not aware of any review that found them scientifically flawed.
In the subcommittee’s press statement, Miller indicated that more attention needs to be focused on these health assessments.
“Other steps are necessary to ensure that the agency’s future public health assessments are scientifically sound, achieve valid public health conclusions and are based on the most current set of data and information available. Unfortunately, the subcommittee’s investigation of ATSDR over the past year found that is often not the case.”
US does about-face on Camp Lejeune’s tap water
By RITA BEAMISH, Associated Press Writer Rita Beamish, Associated Press Writer – Wed Apr 29, 2009
Nearly 12 years ago, a federal report told Marines and their families that adults faced little or no increased cancer risk from drinking and bathing in chemical-tainted water at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. That report – long challenged by skeptical veterans – no longer stands.
Federal health officials said Tuesday they were withdrawing their 1997 assessment of health effects from the water contamination because of omissions and scientific inaccuracy.
“We can no longer stand behind the accuracy of the information in that document, specifically in the drinking water public health evaluation,” William Cibulas, director of health assessment for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said at a meeting in Atlanta. “We know too much now.”
The agency, charged with protecting public health around toxic sites, said some parts of the document – dealing with lead, soil pesticides and fish contamination – remain accurate in characterizing the past environmental hazards.
But the water section, analyzing toxins that seeped into wells from a neighboring dry cleaner and from Camp Lejeune industrial activity, contained “troublesome” information, said Cibulas.
As many as 1 million people may have been exposed to water toxins over 30 years before the bad wells were closed in 1987, health officials now say. The Marines estimated the number at 500,000.
When former Marines took their stories last year to Congress, they were dubbed “poisoned patriots.”
Some people have interpreted the 1997 report as, “No way, no how, would any person who drank contaminated water at Camp Lejeune be expected to suffer any adverse health effects, be they cancerous or non-cancerous,” said Cibulas. “The science is just not that good for us to make that determination.”
Problems in the document included omission of the cancer-causing chemical benzene, despite high levels found in a well in 1984, said Cibulas.
Additionally, the contaminating solvents the report focused on have been characterized in newer science as even more potent, he added. Levels of one solvent, called TCE, measured higher than in any known public water supply, an ATSDR scientist said.
Cibulas also noted the report underestimated the extent of the contamination in base housing areas. The mistake, due to inadequate information from the Marines, was reported by The Associated Press in a 2007 investigation of the toxic water.
The health agency did not make any new conclusions, but pulled its flawed document from the Internet to redo its analysis with new science. People who want the still valid parts of the report now have to contact the agency in Atlanta.
The health officials are continuing a separate study into whether fetuses might have been harmed by the water. Agency scientists are conducting elaborate water models to get to the bottom of the contamination.
Tuesday’s unusual about-face came at a meeting of the health agency, part of the Health and Human Services Department, with its community advisory panel that works on follow-up to Camp Lejeune’s past water problems.
It comes at a sensitive time, after congressional investigators last month accused the agency of obscuring or overlooking potential health hazards at toxic sites. The agency’s director, Howard Frumkin, assured Congress he was working to improve on any shortcomings.
The Camp Lejeune report ambiguously stated both that adults faced no increased cancer risk from the water, and that cancer was not likely but that more study was needed.
It said children’s cancer risk was unknown, but it raised concerns about fetuses exposed to the water, citing studies elsewhere on leukemia and birth defects.
Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., said he hoped Tuesday’s development signaled “that the leadership of ATSDR is now willing to acknowledge their past mistakes and to take measures to protect the public’s health in the future.”
The reversal Tuesday was cold comfort for some former Marines.
Allen Menard believes his rare non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is linked to his time at Camp Lejeune in the early 1980s. “They knew about the benzene,” he said. “Why didn’t they tell us?”
According to the Navy’s legal office, which handles claims, 1,500 former Camp Lejeune residents have filed claims for $33.8 billion in damages. The military is waiting for conclusions from the study of fetal effects before deciding the claims.