Army denies claims that Fort Detrick caused cancer deaths

Associated Press

The denials set the stage for a likely federal lawsuit, said a lawyer for a group that orchestrated the filings.

"We're dealing with some people who are facing a lifetime of cancer treatments," said Mike Hugo, a Framingham, Massachusetts, attorney retained by the Kristen Renee Foundation of Tampa, Florida. "We're talking about families who have lost parents young."

The foundation is led by former televangelist Randy White and named for a daughter who grew up near Fort Detrick and died of brain cancer in 2008. Her mother, White's ex-wife Debra Cross, died of kidney cancer in November.

The U.S. Army Claims Service, headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, sent out letters last month denying 106 of 110 claims filed, Fort Detrick spokeswoman Lanessa Hill said. She said there's been no determination yet on the four remaining claims. Two of those were by people contending they couldn't sell their homes due to contamination fears, and the other two were health claims that lacked documentation, Hills said.

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, those who were denied compensation have six months in which to file lawsuits seeking damages.

The claims primarily alleged that groundwater contamination from buried waste caused cancer, said Thomas Jackson, an Army Claims Service attorney. He said some mentioned other illnesses or attributed symptoms to the fort's testing of the Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange.

Jackson said the denials were based in part on the lack of environmental regulations barring Fort Detrick from burying chemical waste in unlined pits decades ago. The government used a similar tactic to recently defeat a lawsuit alleging that Fort Detrick groundwater pollution reduced the development value of neighboring private property.

The concerns raised by White's group prompted an investigation by state public health officials in 2011. They found no statistically significant evidence of cancer clusters within 2 miles of Fort Detrick.

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