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Former CIA agent claims the military poisoned his family at Camp Stanley — and used national security concerns to cover it up

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

The Shipp children outside Camp Stanley.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Decontamination crew at the Shipp’s house, 2001.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Courtesy photos


Camp Stanley has for decades operated as a weapons storage depot for the U.S. Army, and Joel and Lorena Shipp both recall seeing large bunkers and Soviet-era weaponry. Both claim they witnessed Army officials burning or burying such items on site. And the family’s home itself, Joel claimed, was built near an ammunitions dump. “I remember my little brother and I got a metal detector for Christmas, and went out back and dug up all kinds of crazy stuff — from U.S. Army buttons all the way to old ammunition shells. … We finally found one that was mustard gas.”

For the past two decades, Camp Stanley has, like many aging military outposts, struggled to scrub away its toxic footprint. Officials in 1991 found that remnants of chemical solvents dumped for years on base had leeched into the underground aquifer, spurring a large-scale monitoring and cleanup program.

“We probably share a lot of the common traits that a lot of military hazardous waste sites have,” said Jim Cannizzo, environmental attorney for Camp Stanley, Fort Sam Houston, and Camp Bullis. “Decades and decades ago, they dumped the kind of stuff we wouldn’t dream of dumping now.”

But by 2001, officials found that some contamination had started to migrate under nearby homes off base, and the Army began distributing drinking water to nearby residents. “That’s when they really stepped in to high gear — we’ve become very heavily regulated now,” said Cannizzo, citing an EPA corrective action order that requires the Army identify and clean contamination on and off base. Cannizzo expects the order to stay in effect until 2020.

The Army, he says, now spends roughly $2 million annually on cleanup on and off site, testing 44 off-base wells monitoring for volatile organic compounds and chemicals like TCE and PCE under the nearby neighborhood. The most recent tests from last year show that only two small plumes reach off-base on the west and southwest corners of the installation, and neither effect residential drinking water, Cannizzo said. The contaminated water is so deep underground, any concern over hazardous off-gassing into nearby homes is unfounded, he claimed. Camp Stanley officials also contest the Shipps’ claims that onsite contamination caused their health problems, or that Joel and his two younger siblings ever discovered remnants of weaponry in or around their backyard. “We heard about that, there are so many things wrong factually. … In all of our sites in Camp Stanley, we’ve never had any chemical weapons found at all, ever,” Cannizzo said.

“They talk about a landfill near their house. Well, their house is on bedrock,” Cannizzo said, adding that a dump never would have been built near the base’s residential area. “We’re aware of those claims, and there’s so much wrong with it we’re not going to comment on it.”

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