Navy: Cancer cluster investigation at Guantanamo Bay 'not supported'

The original courtroom at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, seen in November 2014.


By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 10, 2015

The Navy will not do further investigation of the cancer cases reported by personnel who worked at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to see whether there was a link between the illnesses and environmental factors at the facility, the service said Wednesday.

Last month, the Navy sent a team from the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center to investigate the facilities and conditions at Camp Justice, a compound of living quarters, offices and hearing rooms set up to conduct military commissions for detainees. The team was sent in response to seven cases of cancer among the legal community assigned there, which became the basis for an inspector general complaint after the death of military lawyer Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, 44.

Cmdr. David Culpepper, the base’s commanding officer, said in a statement that “based on the preliminary findings [of] the types and number of cancers observed and other associated factors, it is unlikely that an environmental or occupational exposure is associated with these cancers.”

Culpepper said a formal cancer cluster investigation “is not supported because the number and various types of cancer cases validated in the review do not meet the criteria established by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which is the criteria being used by the [public health center] team.”

The CDC, in its guidelines to determining whether to conduct a cancer cluster investigation, notes that “finding a causal association between environmental contaminants and cancer is rare” because exposure to a cancer-causing agent and the amount of time that might pass before a patient has symptoms is often long and may have many other variables along the way.

The Navy said that it would do follow-up environmental testing in September at Guantanamo, due to missing “historical information” on what, if any, contamination occurred at the site.

Twitter @TaraCopp