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Residents at Marine housing installation briefed as potential cancer links probed

Marine Col. Peter D. Buck addresses residents from the Laurel Bay community during a town hall meeting held at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort S.C, Jan. 1, 2017. The meeting was held to address the health concerns in Laurel Bay military housing.

JIMMY J. VERTUS/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By STEPHEN FASTENAU | The Island Packet (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 31, 2017

HILTON HEAD, S.C. — Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. will resume soil testing at Laurel Bay homes in April amid an ongoing probe of whether health concerns can be tied to the military housing.

The testing is to determine whether vapors from leaked heating oil could have reached homes.

The air station held forums this week for Laurel Bay residents to ask questions and hear about the process. Soil gas sampling will begin April 10.

So far, 80 samples have been taken and 26 more are scheduled, an air station news release said.

“None have shown a potential for heating oil vapors to come into the house,” MCAS Beaufort logistics officer D.L. Wilson wrote to residents on March 16.

The Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center for almost two years has been studying the military housing and surrounding bases for possible links to cancer cases after families raised concerns in early 2015. That study is expected to be complete this spring.

Air station officials said they have removed all of the 1,200 known heating oil storage tanks buried in Laurel Bay. Those tanks were removed from 2007 through 2015.

Soil and groundwater samples were taken as the tanks were removed. The gas samples were planned where evidence of leaked oil was found.

The three-hour forums on Tuesday and Wednesday included health professionals and air station commanders. Slides explained that for the oil to have posed a health risk, a clear pathway would have to exist for it to be ingested, inhaled or to come in contact with skin.

The forums followed two town hall meetings hosted by MCAS Beaufort commanding officer Col. Peter Buck in January. At the time, Buck said nothing yet links Laurel Bay to increased health risks.

The ongoing study includes an environmental study and epidemiological study. The epidemiological study includes children of active-duty Marines and Navy personnel assigned MCAS Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island from 2002 until 2016.

Amanda Whatley, the wife of a Marine drill instructor previously stationed at Parris Island, brought attention to the issue with a widespread YouTube video in January. Whatley’s daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2015.

Her friend and fellow Marine wife, Melany Stawnyczyj, talked to CBS News about the issue earlier this year. Stawnyczyj’s son Roman, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.

The moms said they knew of at least 15 cases of pediatric cancer among families who had lived in Laurel Bay.

Whatley declined to comment in February on the advice of an attorney “until our investigation is complete,” she wrote in an email. An attempt to reach her Friday wasn’t immediately successful.

©2017 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)
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