“In terms of documented contaminants, the levels are absolutely outrageous...”
Kathy Keefer had no idea that Fort McClellan was adjacent to one of the nation’s most contaminated communities when she returned for her second Army stint in 1987 while pregnant with her eldest daughter. She didn’t know that decades of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) pollution from the nearby Monsanto plant had permeated the tree bark in Anniston, Ala., and turned domestic pigs into hazardous waste. Or that the drinking water had been tainted by heavy metals, solvents and other hazardous waste from the Anniston Army Depot, Fort McClellan and other industrial sources.
She’s thought a lot about it in retrospect, given the strange health problems visited upon herself, her husband – also a Fort McClellan veteran – and her children, problems entirely at odds with their family medical histories.
“If I had known that Fort McClellan was a potential hazard for my unborn child, I would have found a way to stay off base and petitioned not to have gone at all,” Keefer says.
That sentiment is shared by thousands of veterans who suspect that a litany of cancers, autoimmune disorders and other diseases are a result of toxic chemicals they were exposed to while stationed at the base in northeastern Alabama.
“Fort McClellan is a powder keg of what was known, suspected and found there,” says Joan Zakrocki, who earned her bachelor’s degree in public health after leaving the Army and now researches the former base’s environmental problems as an advocate for Fort McClellan veterans and families. “Our time at Fort McClellan was the single most important factor contributing to our health.”
Not only does Fort McClellan’s toxic résumé rival Camp Lejeune, N.C., where trichloroethylene (TCE) and other pollutants eventually forced VA to provide exposure-related health care to Marines, formerly serving Marines and families. But the combination of toxic chemicals from Monsanto, Fort McClellan and the Anniston Army Depot makes it the most contaminated place in the United States, says David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany in Rensselaer.