Veterans to Congress: Investigate, Ensure Medical Care for Chemical Exposure
By DEVIN DWYER
Oct. 8, 2009
When Laurie Paganelli and her son Jordan, 5, moved to the U.S. Naval Air facility at Atsugi, Japan, in 1997, they felt safe — free from the dangers of the front lines of war. Little did they know, Paganelli says, a silent killer was lurking above the base, putting the health and safety of her family at risk: A giant plume of toxic smoke, drifting from a nearby Japanese incinerator, floated through the homes where U.S. military families lived and the schoolyards where children, including Jordan, played, experts say. In 1990, a U.S. Department of the Navy document reportedly called the cloud a “witch’s brew of toxic chemicals.” “It smelled, burned your eyes, and sometimes added a greenish glow to the air around us,” Pagnelli told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today. “We certainly were not aware of the effects it would have on our family years later.” On Jan. 11, 2008, doctors diagnosed Jordan, then 16, with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, Alveolar Rhabdo-Myo-Sarcoma (ARMS). Paganelli and several doctors believe Jordan’s exposure to the Atsugi incinerator’s toxic plume is at least partly to blame for the disease. Independent analyses, however, have not been able to confirm the source of the illnesses or establish a clear connection between the incinerator and the disease. Paganelli and others exposed to similar chemicals during their military service are asking Congress to fund further scientific research about the incidents, press the military to be more forthcoming about details of the exposures, and guarantee medical care for all exposed, even though some might not have served long enough to be eligible for medical benefits or received a diagnosis to ensure care.