By Megan Eckstein of the News-Post Staff
WASHINGTON — Randy White and his Kristen Renee Foundation took their fight with Fort Detrick to a new level Wednesday, calling for two employees to resign and announcing his cause had gained congressional interest.
Blocks from the White House, White said he was becoming increasingly convinced that a series of actions by Fort Detrick caused hundreds or even thousands of cases of cancer. He promised to take o course of action off the table and that he would seek justice for his daughter and others in Frederick who have died of cancer.
White has spent $220,000 of his own money to hire a team of researchers and lawyers to investigate contamination at Fort Detrick’s Area B, as well as the Army post’s history of testing Agent Orange. Fort Detrick officials last week said Agent Orange was tested in small batches in the 1950s and 1960s, but little else was known about the extent of its research.
White said that answer was not good enough. He said he has research he would like to present to Army officials, but only when they are willing to share information about their activities involving the Vietnam-era defoliant and other similar chemicals that may have been tested in Frederick .
White spent an hour Wednesday talking to media about his story, including watching his 30-year-old daughter die in his arms, to hearing doctors tell him that his ex-wife’s stage-four kidney cancer and his second daughter’s ovarian tumors were environmental and not genetic, and hiring a growing team of researchers to look into possible causes of cancer.
White’s list of possible causes of cancer has grown as his research team has expanded. The carcinogens TCE and PCE were discovered to have leaked into the groundwater in 1992, so White said people may have been sickened from drinking well water. He said that same contaminated groundwater could have gotten into people’s homes through a process called vapor intrusion, sickening families in a manner similar to radon poisoning. And, after his announcement and Fort Detrick’s acknowledgment that Agent Orange was tested, he said residents over the past several decades who were exposed to the chemical ought to be compensated for their illnesses resulting from exposure.
Chris Nidel, the Kristen Renee Foundation’s lawyer, likened the situation to the compensation fund set up for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and said it might make sense for the government to extend those benefits to civilians in the U.S. who were exposed to Agent Orange because of Army research.
White wrapped up the news conference with a series of demands for the government. He said all residential wells need to be tested for TCE and PCE, as well as dioxins — one part of Agent Orange that is dangerous to people — and that cancer patients undergo a blood test for dioxin exposure, all at the Army’s expense. He said the foundation should be reimbursed for “every penny it has spent” because it was the foundation that brought to light the Agent Orange issue.
“The entire area should be tested for dioxin and hazardous material,” White said. “And here is the thing that’s so critical: The results should be made public in a full-page ad, TV, direct mail, radio, PSA, as we have done.”
White also asked that residents still on bottled water from the 1992 contamination be immediately placed on city water, that cancer patients near Fort Detrick be compensated, and that Fort Detrick apologize for sickening the community.
“I’m also asking for the resignation of Bob Craig, the director of environment at Fort Detrick, and Joe Gortva, the environmental manager,” White said. “Why? Because I believe sincerely, emphatically, unequivocally, that they knew what was going on. And I conclude with this: that we demand a full disclosure of what Fort Detrick presently has going and what they have done.”
Fort Detrick did not send any representatives to the news conference, but spokesman Rob Sperling afterward emphasized the Army post was reviewing government records alongside regulatory agencies and ensuring that its investigation took a thorough, scientifically valid approach.
“What we need to realize here is that we don’t even know if there is a cancer cluster in the community,” Sperling said in an e-mail.
The Frederick County Health Department and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene “are still waiting on Randy’s data. Right now, everyone is scrambling to validate the claims, but no one has any information to support them. Fort Detrick continues to offer all of the information that we know about to the public, and as new information is brought to our attention we evaluate it or refer it to the appropriate authorities.”