A federal agency investigating the link between veterans cancer and a leaking nuclear reactor found years of key records documenting exposure have been lost.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Federal hearings confirm how Navy veterans were unwittingly exposed to leaking radiation that was first revealed in a series of exclusive 5 On Your Side investigations.
U.S. Navy veterans serving at McMurdo Station, Anarctica have long suspected that cancer deaths among those who served at the base in the 1960s and 70s may have been connected to a nuclear plant constructed at the base.
Our investigation was triggered by the widow of an Ohio veteran who died of cancer and who asked that his case, and others, be investigated.
The plant was finally shut down after experts ruled it could not be repaired and tons of dirt surrounding it was ultimately removed in the late 70s.
Our exclusive investigation revealed the plant sustained 438 malfunctions and 123 incidents of radiation exposure, prompting Sen. Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, to call for an official investigation by the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense.
As a result, the Veterans Board on Dose Reconstruction recently concluded public hearings in San Antonio and confirmed that veterans, in fact, had been exposed to repeated doses of radiation for years.
A preliminary report by the U.S. Navy describes the exposure as "low level", but also found that only veterans working inside the plant were actually monitored for exposure.
As a result, the Navy is attempting to reconstruct, using scientific methodology, exactly how much radiation other veterans were exposed to as a result of the leaking reactor known officially as PM-3A.
"For veterans who did not work with the PM-3A," said Navy Lt. Commander Greg Fairchild, "Who received no monitoring, the Navy responses to those questions was to return a null result because we don't have reported exposures for them."
And despite veterans who are seeking compensation because of cancer, Fairchild describes the risk as similar to a "chest x-ray."
In the most startling testimony, Navy veteran Kirk Hyndman, who served at McMurdo, testified how specialized detectors began going off in a supply office not far from the reactor.
"It told me that there was a constant radiation source, at least in that supply office," said Hyndman.
"Was there a radiation leak--absolutely," said Board Chairman Lt. Gen. Charles Roadman, M.D., who once served as surgeon general in the Air Force. "The question is--did it cause cancer."
Roadman cautions that this is a preliminary report and there are "lots of unanswered questions."
Michael Howell, an attorney who attended the hearing at the request of veterans, is skeptical of the Navy's investigation.
"Further let everybody know whether some of the science they're using is real--or bogus," Howell said, referring to Navy investigators.
McMurdo veteran Bill Vogel told the board that "people from the 80s and 90s that served down there are, in an alarming number, reporting cancer." Meanwhile, McMurdo veteran Jim Landy, who has battled repeated cancers, remains optimistic that concerns are finally being investigated.
"It seems to be," said Landy, "that the chain of command from a year or so ago are really doing something. I know it's going to take time."
Landy and other veterans are suffering financially due to their fight with cancer and until now, efforts to obtain service related compensation have fallen on deaf ears. Landy's daughter made an emotional appeal to the board that will finally decide whether compensation is due.
"You all have the power to fix this oversight," said Maria Landy. And fighting back tears she told the board, "You have the opportunity to help these people, to help my father. You can make it right."
A final report is expected in six to nine months.
Federal hearings prompted by an exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation into radiation exposure among McMurdo Navy veterans are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning.