For years, Rosemary Gruden was worried whether the water from her well and the soil in her garden are safe. She feared they were contaminated by chemical runoff. She considered moving. “I really don't want to pull up roots and move,” she said.
The Grudens live one mile from Fort Detrick. ABC7 has been investigating alleged spraying of the chemical known as Agent Orange at the Fort.
“I don't think it's safe for people who work there. I really don't,” she said.
Gruden’s father, Charles, was a Detrick test lab worker for 30 years. He died of colon cancer. Her husband, Joe, was an employee at the Fort for 15 years. He suffers from blood cancer.
“Frederick has a very high cancer rate and it always has,” Gruden said. “Lots of people have had cancer. Five of my neighbors, close neighbors. And now my husband.”
ABC7 took dozens of water and soil samples at private homes, creeks and ponds in Frederick as well as near the Fort Detrick fence. Testing at Schneider Labs in Richmond showed any trace of Agent Orange and other chemicals were 'BQL' -- below quantitation level. In other words, no traces were measureable.
“I'm very relieved and very happy to know the water is clear,” said Julie Nichols, whose husband died from colon cancer last June.
Nichols and Gruden say they're pleased at the test results. But Nichols is also skeptical. “Why would you pass out water if you didn't think something was wrong with the water,” she wondered.
Some residents said just because the samples tested by ABC7 came up clean, that doesn't mean chemicals weren't present years ago.
”It takes us years to really find out the damage that's been done over the years,” said Janet Norries, the wife of a cancer patient.
Experts point out that Fort Detrick is an EPA superfund site with industrial solvents, Agent Orange wastes and radioactive materials buried deep underground, possibly leaking into waterways.
“A military base is like a chemical plant. And Detrick is even more interesting because they did experiments on things that were weapons,” said Dr. Tom Burke of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
“We're still not out of the woods. The cancer is still there,” said Gruden. She says she still wants to know what's causing all these cancer cases.
The National Academy of Sciences launched an investigation this week and hopes to have results by the fall.