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MCAS Beaufort commander: 'No reliable information yet' connects housing, health problems

By STEPHEN FASTENAU | The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 18, 2017

The commander of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort said “no reliable information yet” connects a nearby military housing development to health problems after concerns gained widespread attention this month.

Col. Peter Buck made the statement in a letter Thursday informing Laurel Bay residents of upcoming meetings to talk about the status of underground oil storage tanks and other environmental testing in the community. The meetings were scheduled in response to concerns raised by Marine mothers whose children had been diagnosed with leukemia after the families lived in the community while stationed in Beaufort.

One of the mothers, Amanda Whatley, told her story this month in a YouTube video that gained national attention.

One meeting was held Tuesday night, and another is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the MCAS Beaufort theater.

“At this point, no reliable information yet establishes that conditions at Laurel Bay cause health problems,” Buck wrote in the letter to residents. “However, like the video, we encourage you to promptly seek a medical provider if you suspect symptoms of illness.”

State health officials also recently provided MCAS the results of a study showing no increase in the rate of cancer or cancer-related deaths in Laurel Bay’s 29906 ZIP code, Buck said in information about the ongoing study at Laurel Bay posted to the air station’s website, www.beaufort.marines.mil/Resources/Laurel-Bay-Health-Study.

Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center officials are studying whether possible health hazards exist at Laurel Bay, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. That investigation started in June 2015 and is expected to be complete this spring.

Whatley, whose daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with leukemia, raised the possibility of a link to underground heating oil tanks once buried at Laurel Bay. On the MCAS website, Buck said the tanks were drained and filled with dirt during the 1980s. Then in 2007, the Marine Corps and state environmental officials began removing the tanks.

During the removal process, some of the oil was discovered to have leaked, and steps were taken to clean the sites, the Marine Corps said. Hundreds of monitoring wells were installed to test the groundwater for possible contamination.

Soil at a third of the sites where officials found the most oil leaked was tested for six types of gases. Those results were below the threshold for federal agencies to recommend further testing, according to the Marine Corps.

All known underground tanks were deemed to have been removed in 2015. The Marine Corps said 1,251 tanks were once buried at 1,110 Laurel Bay homesites.

Buck said he wants to limit speculation before Navy health officials complete their work on the study.

“Drawing a conclusion or sharing personal opinions about causation before the NMCPHC study is completed is counter-productive and may harm fellow Marine families,” Buck wrote on the MCAS website. “There is also the potential to create a lot of unnecessary fear.

“If I become aware of a link to cancer, I will inform you as I take immediate actions to protect our families.”

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

Visit The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) at www.islandpacket.com

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