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Legacy of Our Veterans' Military Exposures
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Superfund Site MCAS El Toro: Marine Hangar Was ‘Witches Brew’

March 16, 2012

If you worked in WSSD in Hangar 296, please email Robert O'Dowd at

The stupidity of putting Marines in a work space where a Ra 226 paint room  operated for years is beyond my comprehension.  I just learned that I slept on  duty watch for two years at El Toro in what was the Ra 226 Instrument Parts  Storage Room in Hangar 296.  The entire WSSD staff (as many as 300  Marines over 30 years) worked in  a Radium contaminated environment.  Radium is about a million times as  radioactive as an equivalent mass of uranium.  Madam Currie’s papers are  still radioactive. 

A few of the unanswered questions are: how many of these men are alive today, sick with cancer or at a high risk for developing cancer in the future and have not connected the dots to service at El Toro?  

There’s no health care screening for El Toro veterans. Marines who worked with toxic chemicals without protective clothing and face masks and/or were exposed to radiation are more at risk to adverse health effects than others who were stationed on the base behind some desk.


There is strong evidence that bladder cancer may be associated with exposure to ionizing radiation, according to scientists at the Center for Environmental Health Studies, Boston, MA.

The VA agreed that my stage 2/3 bladder cancer and hyperprolactinemia were “at least as likely as not” due to exposure to TCE/PCE and El Toro in the 1960s.  But, radiation exposure may have been a factor, too.

My medical doctor provided a nexus opinion to the VA for  a number of chronic medical conditions “at least or more likely than not” due to radiation and organic solvent exposure  at El Toro.

The VA approved compensation for bladder cancer and hyperprolactinemia “at least as likely as not’ due to exposure to organic solvents at El Toro.  All claims for radiation exposure were rejected.

Dr. Bertell noted that “radon gas [a decay product of Ra 226] can pass directly to the brain via the olfactory channels. This has now been confirmed through studies of DU aerosol in the Gulf War.”  Because of the risk of exposure to radon (a decay product of Ra 226) in Hangar 296, Dr. Bertell strongly recommended the VA conduct the chromosome blood breakage test, the definitive test for radiation exposure.

The chromosome blood breakage test is available from two government laboratories, the Armed Forces Institute for Science and Education, Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site and the Cytogenetic Biodosimetry Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN.

The Philadelphia VA ignored Dr. Bertell’s advice, denying the blood chromosome breakage test for two reasons:  (1) there is no support that I worked in Hangar 296 in my SRB and (2) my chemotherapy for bladder cancer (linked to organic solvent exposure at El Toro but also a heath effect of radiation exposure) negates the use of the chromosome blood breakage test.

After a news story on Veterans Today and pressure from the Department of Pennsylvania, Marine Corps League, and the Pennsylvania War Veterans Council, the VA is now reviewing their decision on the denial of the chromosome blood breakage test.

El Toro Marines who worked in the north mezzanine of Hangar 296 need to aware of their possible exposure to radiation and if there’s medical support for radiation exposure for cancer or chronic medical condition, then demand that the VA conduct the chromosome blood breakage test.

The best possible news would be that no Marine was affected by radiation exposure at El Toro.

Marines who worked in WSSD  with a supply MOS (MOS 3071 and 3072) will need to support VA claims for radiation exposure in Hangar 296 with evidence that they worked in the hangar unless their SRBs contain evidence of assignment to WSSD.


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