health officials are investigating whether personnel and families were exposed to hazardous health conditions at two northern Beaufort County bases and a housing development.
The Corps Public Health Center is looking for possible health hazards at Laurel Bay housing community, Corps Air Station Beaufort and Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. The study began in June 2015 in response to concerns from families who have received cancer diagnoses, said Capt. Clay Groover, a spokesman for Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Results of the study will be provided to families and the public, Groover said.
“We appreciate the families’ concerns and are working to help the medical experts to find answers,” said a 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 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. 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 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 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 Corps, Whatley said. She said the opened an investigation, which includes taking soil samples, and that the process could take a long time.
In its statement, the 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 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 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.
Stephen Fastenau: 843-706-8182, @IPBG_Stephen
“We feel for any family when their child is diagnosed with a disease. Our thoughts and prayers are with these children and their families. We are aware of the video and we appreciate the family’s concerns. It took real courage for this mom to tell her story in such a candid and sincere way, and for her to remain so strong for her daughter.
The Corps requested that the Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) conduct a study to determine if an exposure pathway exists for potential health hazards aboard Laurel Bay, Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and Corps Air Station Beaufort. That study is underway. At the conclusion of the study, the findings will be released to the families and the public.
The NMCPHC study commenced in June of 2015, and the Corps has remained supportive of the families involved and the NMCPHC efforts. In addition to any NMCPHC efforts to inform families, the Corps has met with families in person, requested the NMCPHC study, held a town hall information meeting in April 2016, mailed information letters to Laurel Bay residents, and provided monthly updates on the progress of the study. We have also responded to NMCPHC information/data requests. Our goal is to remain as transparent as possible throughout the process and to provide the NMCPHC study results when complete.
We appreciate the families’ concerns and are working to help the medical experts to find answers. 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.”
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