A Few Good Men and Bladder Cancer

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Veterans of EPA Superfund sites are at risk for bladder cancer from organic solvent exposure.  A simple and non-evasive test is available to detect bladder cancer.

(Somerdale, NJ) – Those that served and were exposed to toxic chemicals have a critical need to know what chemicals they were exposed to and access to medical screening to stay healthy. No reasonable person would disagree with this.

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There’s no government program to screen veterans who worked and lived in highly toxic environments. Bladder cancer is only one of the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Exposure to organic solvents like trichloroethylene (TCE) can cause bladder cancer, brain cancer, esophageal cancer, and other serious diseases.

According to Dr. Robert Schlesinger, retired Army Colonel, and urologist, “Organic compounds in general, and benzene-containing compounds specifically are recognized as carcinogenic for the lining of the entire urinary tract, kidneys, ureters, and bladder. There is no dispute regarding this.”

The good news is that bladder cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths, can be screened with an inexpensive and non-invasive medical test.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2006 that an easy in-office urine test can detect 99 percent of bladder tumors when used in conjunction with a cystoscopy.  The $30 urine test called NMP22 BladderChek was reported to be three times more effective than standard urine testing.  The test measures the level of NMP22, a type of protein in the urine.  Elevated levels of NMP22 are a sign of bladder cancer.

Chemical exposures of thousands of veterans are an indisputable fact.  In 2003, the Air Force reported 1,400 military sites contaminated with TCE alone. The EPA National Priority List (Superfund) lists multiple organic solvents and other contaminants for military bases. The potential health consequences of high exposure are medical facts.  But these facts haven’t reached most veterans.

I am one of the thousands of veterans exposed to chemical solvents while in the military.  Unlike many civilian workers, my exposure was around the clock since I worked and lived in the same contaminated environment.  Marine Corps Air Station El Toro where I served is now a federal hazardous waste site. The hangar I worked and slept in on-duty watch for two years was on land where toxic chemicals were in the soil, air, and water.

The chemical that harmed me, TCE was commonly used by the military and industry as a degreasing agent.  I knew nothing about what it could do to my health.  Neither did the other Marines at El Toro, including many who are now sick or dead from TCE and other chemicals. El Toro contamination is not unique since it is only one of many military bases on the National Priority List.

Over 130 military bases in the US are hazardous waste sites, with such severe land, water and air contamination that federal action is required to prevent further health damage. This is not about a few empty barrels on an open lot.  This is about veterans who worked and lived where chemicals caused mutations and ultimately cancer. And it is veterans who could be warned and preserve their health. Instead, current policies will lead to late diagnosis and death from preventable cancers.

In my case and many others, early warning and the $30 screening test to identify pre-cancerous lesions could have prevented cancer. Instead, tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on surgery, chemotherapy, and other medical care.

Costs of Bladder Cancer

The Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas estimated the lifetime cost of bladder cancer based on a review of several hundred bladder cancer patients in 2005. Their conclusion was that bladder cancer and its associated complications represent a major economic burden: “The average cost of bladder cancer was $65,158 among the cohort patients. Sixty percent of this cost ($39,393) was associated with surveillance and treatment of recurrences, and 30% ($19,811) was attributable to complications. The lifetime cost of bladder cancer was lower for the worst-case scenario ($99,270 dollars) than for the best-case scenario ($120,684). However, a greater proportion of the costs were attributable to complications with the worst-case scenario (43%, $42,290) compared with the best (28%, $34,169).”

In 2009, the National Cancer Institute estimated 70,980 new bladder cancers and 14,330 deaths.  According to a recent worldwide study of bladder cancer in Germany: “Bladder cancer has the highest lifetime treatment costs per patient of all cancers. The high recurrence rate and ongoing invasive monitoring requirement are the key contributors to the economic and human toll of this disease.” It’s obvious that bladder cancer screening and prevention can result in significant health cost savings and thousands of lives saved.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs conceded that medical specialists correctly attributed my bladder cancer to TCE exposure at El Toro.  But a lack of information and the high cost of independent medical evaluations prevent other veterans with service-related illnesses from obtaining VA benefits.

Veterans who seek information and medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs for cancer or other diseases are required to complete an annual financial assessment or Means test to determine if they qualify for cost-free services. For non-service-connected disabilities, the VA assigns veterans to Priority Group 8, which means that all medical services must be paid for by the veteran.

Even if a veteran goes to a VA Medical Center, the VA has no ongoing program to screen high-risk veterans for bladder cancer.  Denials of disability claims may be based on questionable economics, but that is an inhumane and dishonest response to veterans placed in harm’s way. This is especially hard to understand when there is an easy, non-expensive test to screen for bladder cancer and a large number of veterans at risk who served at EPA Superfund sites.

The lengthy delay in the onset of disease from organic solvent exposure means that the VA benefits for chemical harm are denied unless a veteran spends thousands of dollars for a medical nexus opinion. The sad truth is that veterans seriously ill with cancer and often out of work, can not afford independent medical evaluations and nexus opinions.  As result, many never obtain the benefits they are entitled to.

Instead of denying what they know to be true, the VA could inform veterans about chemicals found on the EPA Superfund bases and the diseases linked to them. A proactive approach could allow veterans to share the information with their medical care providers. Medical professionals could catch cancer and other diseases early when the option for a cure is best. The VA could save the country untold millions in medical costs and families a great deal of pain and suffering.   The VA and Veteran Service Organizations

The information on contaminants of concern and their health effects for bases on the National Priority List (NPL) is on an EPA database easily accessed from the internet.  What’s missing is the “heads-up” to veterans and their medical care providers.

One solution is for the VA to provide the Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) the internet URLs for the chemicals (contaminants of concern) and health effects (diseases) found in the EPA Superfund database. The VSOs could post this information on their websites, allowing veterans and their medical care providers easy access.

To help spread the word to other veterans, I have posted this information on my own website.

See http://militarysuperfunds.blogspot.com/. The list of bases is shown at the end of this news story. Posting this information on any VSO website is not “rocket science.” Lives can be saved for veterans who would otherwise not consider asking for this inexpensive and non-invasive test.

In regard to bladder cancer, a government initiative to inform veterans is both proactive and inexpensive.  Cost-effective screening tests at VA medical centers or private health care providers exist for bladder cancer and many other diseases. The solution isn’t difficult or costly.

This is a proactive approach to preventing serious diseases before it’s too late.  Normally, the VA is not in the business of health care screening for veterans, but there are compelling costs and humane reasons for doing so for veterans of EPA Superfund sites.

We promised to protect our country. We now need to protect our own health.  It is the right thing to do, and passing on a legacy of honesty in our military services is the honorable thing to do.

Military Bases on EPA Superfund List

US Air Force

Air Force Plant #4 (General Dynamics) Fort Worth TX Air Force Plant 85 Columbus OH Air Force Plant PJKS Littleton CO American Lake Gardens/McChord AFB Tacoma WA Andersen Air Force Base Yigo GU Andrews Air Force Base Andrews Air Force Base MD Arnold Engineering Development Center (USAF) Tullahoma/Manchester TN Brandywine DRMO Brandywine MD Castle Air Force Base (6 Areas) Merced CA Chanute Air Force Base Rantoul IL Dover Air Force Base Dover DE Edwards Air Force Base Edwards AFB CA Eielson Air Force Base Fairbanks AK Ellsworth Air Force Base Ellsworth AFB SD Elmendorf Air Force Base Anchorage AK F.E. Warren Air Force Base Cheyenne WY Fairchild Air Force Base (4 Waste Areas) Spokane WA George Air Force Base Victorville CA Griffiss Air Force Base (11 Areas) Rome NY Hanscom Field/Hanscom Air Force Base Bedford MA Hill Air Force Base Hill AFB UT Homestead Air Force Base Homestead Air Force Base FL Loring Air Force Base Limestone ME Luke Air Force Base Glendale AZ March Air Force Base Riverside CA Mather Air Force Base (AC&W Disposal Site) Mather CA McChord Air Force Base (Wash Rack/Treatment Area) Tacoma WA McClellan Air Force Base (Ground Water Contamination) McClellan AFB CA McGuire Air Force Base #1 Wrightstown NJ Mountain Home Air Force Base Mountain Home ID Norton Air Force Base (Lndfll #2) San Bernardino CA Pease Air Force Base Portsmouth/Newington NH Plattsburgh Air Force Base Plattsburgh NY Rickenbacker Air National Guard (USAF) Lockbourne OH Robins Air Force Base (Landfill #4/Sludge Lagoon) Houston County GA Tinker Air Force Base (Soldier Creek/Building 3001) Oklahoma City OK Travis Air Force Base Travis AFB CA Twin Cities Air Force Reserve Base (Small Arms Range Landfill) Minneapolis MN Tyndall Air Force Base Panama City FL Williams Air Force Base Chandler AZ Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Dayton OH Wurtsmith Air Force Base Oscoda MI

US Army

Aberdeen Proving Ground (Edgewood Area) Edgewood MD Aberdeen Proving Ground (Michaelsville Landfill) Aberdeen MD Alabama Army Ammunition Plant Childersburg AL Anniston Army Depot (Southeast Industrial Area) Anniston AL Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant Hall County NE Fort Devens Fort Devens MA Fort Devens-Sudbury Training Annex Sudbury MA Fort Dix (Landfill Site) Pemberton Township NJ Fort Eustis (US Army) Newport News VA Fort George G. Meade Odenton MD Fort Lewis (Landfill No. 5) Tacoma WA Fort Lewis Logistics Center Tillicum WA Fort Ord Marina CA Fort Richardson (USARMY) Anchorage AK Fort Riley Junction City KS Fort Wainwright Fort Wainwright AK Iowa Army Ammunition Plant Middletown IA Joliet Army Ammunition Plant (Load-Assembly-Packing Area) Joliet IL Joliet Army Ammunition Plant (Manufacturing Area) Joliet IL Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (Northwest Lagoon) Independence MO Letterkenny Army Depot (PDO Area) Franklin County PA Letterkenny Army Depot (SE Area) Chambersburg PA Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant Texarkana TX Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant Karnack TX Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant Doyline LA Materials Technology Laboratory (USARMY) Watertown MA Milan Army Ammunition Plant Milan TN Natick Laboratory Army Research, Development, and Engineering Center Natick MA New Brighton/Arden Hills/TCAAP (USARMY) New Brighton MN Picatinny Arsenal (USARMY) Rockaway Township NJ Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant Riverbank CA Rocky Mountain Arsenal (USARMY) Adams County CO Sacramento Army Depot Sacramento CA Savanna Army Depot Activity Savanna IL Schofield Barracks (USARMY) Schofield HI Seneca Army Depot Romulus NY Sharpe Army Depot Lathrop CA Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant Desoto KS Tobyhanna Army Depot Tobyhanna PA Tooele Army Depot (North Area) Tooele UT Tracy Defense Depot (USARMY) Tracy CA Umatilla Army Depot (Lagoons) Hermiston OR US Army/NASA Redstone Arsenal Huntsville AL Weldon Spring Former Army Ordnance Works St. Charles County MO West Virginia Ordnance (USARMY) Point Pleasant WV

US Coast Guard

Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard Baltimore MD

US Navy

Adak Naval Air Station Adak AK Alameda Naval Air Station Alameda CA Allegany Ballistics Laboratory (USNAVY) Mineral County WV Bangor Naval Submarine Base Silverdale WA Bangor Ordnance Disposal (USNAVY) Bremerton WA Barstow Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow CA Brunswick Naval Air Station Brunswick ME Camp Lejeune Military Res. (USNAVY) Onslow County NC Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton CA Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station Havelock NC Concord Naval Weapons Station Concord CA Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center North Kingstown RI El Toro Marine Corps Air Station El Toro CA Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head MD Jackson Park Housing Complex (USNAVY) Kitsap County WA Jacksonville Naval Air Station Jacksonville FL Marine Corps Combat Development Command Quantico VA Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany GA Moffett Naval Air Station Moffett Field CA Naval Air Development Center (8 Waste Areas) Warminster Township PA Naval Air Engineering Center Lakehurst NJ Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island (Ault Field) Whidbey Island WA Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island (Seaplane Base) Whidbey Island WA Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek Virginia Beach VA Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Eastern Pacific Wahiawa HI Naval Industrial Reserve Ordnance Plant Fridley MN Naval Security Group Activity Sabana Seca PR Naval Surface Warfare Center – Dahlgren Dahlgren VA Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station (4 Waste Areas) Keyport WA Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant Bedford MA Naval Weapons Station – Yorktown Yorktown VA Naval Weapons Station Earle (Site A) Colts Neck NJ Navy Ships Parts Control Center Mechanicsburg PA New London Submarine Base New London CT Newport Naval Education & Training Center Newport RI Norfolk Naval Base (Sewells Point Naval Complex) Norfolk VA Norfolk Naval Shipyard Portsmouth VA NWS Yorktown – Cheatham Annex Yorktown VA Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island SC Patuxent River Naval Air Station Patuxent River MD Pearl Harbor Naval Complex Pearl Harbor HI Pensacola Naval Air Station Pensacola FL Port Hadlock Detachment (USNAVY) Indian Island WA Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Kittery ME Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Complex Bremerton WA South Weymouth Naval Air Station Weymouth MA St. Juliens Creek Annex (U.S. Navy) Chesapeake VA Treasure Island Naval Station-Hunters Point Annex San Francisco CA USN Air Station Cecil Field Jacksonville FL Washington Navy Yard Washington DC Whiting Field Naval Air Station Milton FL Willow Grove Naval Air and Air Reserve Station Horsham PA Yuma Marine Corps Air Station Yuma AZ

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Robert O’Dowd served in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings during 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. While at MCAS El Toro for two years, O'Dowd worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated work space in Hangar 296 in MWSG-37, the most industrialized and contaminated acreage on the base. Robert is a two time cancer survivor and disabled veteran. Robert graduated from Temple University in 1973 with a bachelor’s of business administration, majoring in accounting, and worked with a number of federal agencies, including the EPA Office of Inspector General and the Defense Logistics Agency. After retiring from the Department of Defense, he teamed up with Tim King of Salem-News.com to write about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps bases (MCAS El Toro and MCB Camp Lejeune), the use of El Toro to ship weapons to the Contras and cocaine into the US on CIA proprietary aircraft, and the murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and others who were a threat to blow the whistle on the illegal narcotrafficking activity. O'Dowd and King co-authored BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-Up. The book is available as a soft cover copy and eBook from Amazon.com. See: http://www.amazon.com/Betrayal-Exposure-Marines-Government-Cover-Up/dp/1502340003.