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Newsmonger: First Camp Lejeune, Next Toxic Triangle?, Inside closed Lackland briefing

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Though numerous official reports hinted at health problems inside the Toxic Triangle, like elevated rates of cancer and birth defects, none have pinpointed a cause. Stephen TerMaath, with the BRAC program management division, this year wrote to local Restoration Advisory Board members to address ongoing concerns over the community's health woes, saying the Air Forces' 10-year, $5 million agreement with San Antonio's Metro Health department to study potential health problems in the Kelly area (an agreement that ran its course last year) had failed to link "past or present Kelly AFB activities to the health concerns of the community." The Air Force has indicated it's considering shutting down the community's advisory board, something that could happen as early as October. Activists, meanwhile, remain skeptical.

There are still lingering questions from a 2006-2007 study by a cancer-cluster expert, one that Metro Health effectively buried, noting dozens of cancer cases in the Toxic Triangle that couldn't be explained away by other factors like lifestyle and genetics. And similarities between Camp Lejeune and Kelly AFB don't end with the nature of chemicals dumped onsite.

The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, originally tasked with assessing health problems around both military sites, took a lashing from a Congressional panel three years ago. In a report the panel cited ATSDR studies into both Kelly and Camp Lejeune as evidence of the agency's shoddy, incomplete work, saying the ATSDR often "obscures or overlooks potential health hazards, uses inadequate analysis, and fails to zero in on toxic culprits." One chief complaint had been that the agency failed to measure critical potential exposure pathways, and that studies looking for sources of toxic exposure to the community only occurred well after Air Force officials had already begun scrubbing Kelly.

"We've been trying to get the government to back us up for a long time," said Alvarado on Monday. "It's the same as Camp Lejeune. We've got the same problems here."

Subra has her own thoughts on why Kelly-area residents' fight for justice has not seen the same results as in Camp Lejeune. "The real truth is that it's a Hispanic community there, an environmental justice community," she said. Compared to a Marine master sergeant and a military community fighting for restitution, she said, "the residents around Kelly are much easier to dismiss."

Inside closed Lackland briefing

Instead of holding an open hearing on the growing sex abuse scandal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, leadership within the House Armed Services Committee opted instead to hold a closed-door briefing with Air Force officials last Thursday.

Advocacy groups have urged the House committee to hold public hearings into the growing scandal of sexual misconduct at Lackland, saying internal military investigations aren't enough and could fail to root out problems system-wide. "The Air Force and Department of Defense can and should do their own investigations, but that should not impede or delay Congress from doing its own job of oversight on behalf of the American people," said Nancy Parrish, founder of Protect Our Defenders, a group that supports victims of military sexual assault.

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