Deceased Marine exposed to Agent Orange and benzene. 

UPDATED 9/10/2010

(IRVINE, CA) –  A Marine veteran’s widow was awarded compensation for the death of her husband from progressive small lymphocytic lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) caused by exposure to burnings at landfills on former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California. 

The four landfills on the base burned solid waste, oil, paint residues, flammable fluids, jet fluid, industrial solvents, aviation gasoline and other liquids into the air.  An April 1991 CDC (Center for Disease Control) report confirmed the burning of hazardous materials at base landfills, according to the VA,

The Marine was stationed at El Toro from August 1968 to April 1971 during which time he worked as an air freight man and drove a truck.  According to the VA, he wore a gas mask and protective shoes during this time.  

Activities at the base generated harmful waste and paint residues, hydraulic fluids, batteries and other waste into the soil and grounds from several past operations.  

The VA reported that the Marine has been exposed to  air pollution from the burnings at El Toro’s landfills and that it was more likely than not that “the Veteran’s  leukemia and lymphoma were caused from this in-service chemical exposure at El Toro MCAS during his transport of hazardous materials and his exposure to pollution from landfill burnings.” The Marine died in April 2008.

A July 2004 opinion from VA physician  noted that he had been treating the veteran for CLL, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The physician opined that this cancer was related to the Marine’s exposure to benzene and to Agent Orange.  

The Marine did not serve in Vietnam and while there’s no official government reports of Agent Orange contamination at El Toro, California Department of Toxic Substances Control  Envirostor database shows dioxin ( 2,3,7,8-TCDD) as a contaminant of concern for the base.

EPA reported 2,3,7,8 TCDD is ”formed as an unintentional by-product of incomplete combustion.  It may be released to the environment during the combustion of fossil fuels and wood, and during the incineration of municipal and industrial wastes.” 

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Based on the EPA report, it’s very likely that dioxin (2,3,7,8-TCDD) may have been found in soil samples from the landfills and crash crew burn pits.

Agent Orange is a 50-50 mix of two chemicals, 2,4,D and 2,4,5,T. The combined product was mixed with kerosene or diesel fuel and dispersed by aircraft, vehicle, and hand spraying, according the Vietnam Veterans’ website.  

The use of dioxin (2,4,5,T) was reported to this writer from two Marine veterans of MAG-11 (Marine Air Group-11).  These Marine veterans  reported that they sprayed this toxic chemical around the fence lines and other areas to control the growth of vegetation.  One of the Marine veterans is a prostate cancer survivor.  Prostate cancer is one of the illnesses associated with exposure to dioxin.   These men are now attempting to locate other MAG-11 veterans who sprayed dioxin at El Toro.  Any Marine veteran with knowledge of the use of dioxin at El Toro can email me at [email protected].  Your identity will be kept confidential.    

Courtesy: U.S. Navy, MCAS El Toro


A VA claim filed by the Marine’s widow for service connection as the cause of death of her husband was denied by the  Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office (RO) in Waco, Texas.   

However, the VA Board of Veterans’ Appeal on May 10, 2010, ruled in favor of the widow. The VA Veterans’ Board of Appeals found that the Marine was exposed to benzene, alkalating agents, aromatic amines, solvents used in chemicals, plastic, rubber, exposure to petroleum products, paint, agricultural chemicals and chemical exposures while on the base.  All are known causes of leukemia. 

The VA Board of Veterans Appeal found that the immediate cause of the Marine’s death was respiratory insufficiency, progressive small lymphocytic lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).  Other significant conditions which contributed to the his death included chronic kidney disease, chronic anemia, diabetes, Agent Orange exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hemiparesis and arthritis aneurysm by history.                                        

The Marine’s widow was awarded Dependent Indemnity Compensation (DIC) on the basis of service connection as the cause of her husband’s death.   

The organic solvent contamination of soil and groundwater at El Toro is shared by many military bases. Millions of dollars were spent in remediation by the Navy. However, like other veterans, no El Toro veteran was notified of the health effects of exposure to organic solvents, toxic metals, and radionuclide.

El Toro veterans can access useful information about the base’s contamination at a  3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS El Toro veterans’ website.    

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