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Navy probes possible health hazards after children's cancer cases at S. Carolina bases

By STEPHEN FASTENAU | The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) | Published: January 11, 2017

Navy health officials are investigating whether military personnel and families were exposed to hazardous health conditions at two northern Beaufort County military bases and a Marines housing development.

The Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center is looking for possible health hazards at Laurel Bay housing community, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. The study began in June 2015 in response to concerns from Marine families who have received cancer diagnoses, said Marine Capt. Clay Groover, a spokesman for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

Results of the study will be provided to Marine families and the public, Groover said.

“We appreciate the families’ concerns and are working to help the medical experts to find answers,” said a Marine Corps statement provided by Groover. “Like the families, we desire the results of the NMCPHC study so we can better understand the situation and provide appropriate support to the families.”

A Marine wife, the mother of a child recently diagnosed with leukemia, brought attention to the subject with a viral video this month.

Amanda Whatley, whose husband is a U.S. Marine previously stationed at Parris Island, posted a YouTube video Saturday describing the leukemia diagnosis of her daughter, Katie. She was diagnosed in 2015, after the family lived in the Laurel Bay community near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort from 2007 until 2010.

During the 18-minute video, Whatley said there were eight other known cases of children diagnosed with cancer after living at Laurel Bay.

In an update posted with the video, Whatley said the number of known cases of children diagnosed has grown to 13 and that she has heard from 20 adults who had been stationed in Beaufort and later diagnosed with cancer.

“I expect that number is actually exponentially higher,” Whatley wrote.

The video has been viewed more than 40,000 times as of Wednesday. Whatley’s public Facebook post of the video had been shared almost 1,500 times Wednesday morning.

Reached this week, Whatley declined to comment until after fulfilling a commitment to another news outlet. The Marine Corps is aware of the video and said Whatley’s message was courageous.

After Katie was diagnosed and similar cases discovered in other Laurel Bay families, the families went to the Marine Corps, Whatley said. She said the Marines opened an investigation, which includes taking soil samples, and that the process could take a long time.

In its statement, the Marine Corps said it has met with families in person, mailed letters to Laurel Bay residents, held a town hall informational session in April 2016, provided monthly updates and offered all the information requested by health officials leading the inquiry.

In the video, Whatley mentioned oil tanks buried under Laurel Bay houses as a possible source for benzene contamination. Benzene is a chemical compound known to cause cancer. But Whatley said she is not certain the tanks are the issue and that families have asked the Marine Corps to investigate possible contaminants at Laurel Bay, Parris Island and MCAS.

Katie was diagnosed after falling ill while the family was house-hunting after being transferred to Virginia, Whatley said in the video. After Katie was rushed to the emergency room, X-Rays showed a mass in her chest and doctors found her potassium levels spiked, her organs failing and cancer taking over her body.

Katie enrolled in a 28-month clinical trial. The cancer initially went into remission with chemotherapy but returned 11 months into the trial by attacking her optic nerves, Whatley said.

In February 2016, Katie underwent a bone marrow transplant.

Whatley at one point told her doctor that she and another mother at Laurel Bay had been pregnant at the same time and that her friend’s child had been diagnosed with cancer in 2012.

“I don’t necessarily think that’s a coincidence,” the doctor told her.

On Whatley’s Facebook post, a mother who said she had lived at Laurel Bay from 2013 to 2016 said her 2-year-old son was recently diagnosed with lymphoma.

Whatley said she doesn’t intend for the video to be a campaign against the Marine Corps, that the family is cooperating with the study and that she wants the spread the word so that the message gets “tucked away in the corner of your mom brain” and others screen for cancer sooner than Katie’s was discovered.

“Hopefully nothing is wrong, but if they do have cancer hopefully you caught it at a very early stage and you don’t have to go down the road Katie and her family have gone down the past two years,” Whatley said in the video.

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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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