Some military families believe oil tanks below their houses near a marine corp airbase in South Carolina caused cancer in their children. They say at least 13 children who lived on or near the housing community in Beaufort are sick. One mother took to the internet to alert others.
“So, this is our daughter Katie, she was six years old when this picture was taken,” said Amanda Whatley. Her personal story, describing how she nearly lost her daughter to leukemia, has been viewed nearly 50,000 times on YouTube.
“We are fairly confident that had we not taken her to the emergency room that night, that she would have died in her sleep,” Whatley added.
But hers wasn’t the only case. Three years earlier, the 4-year-old son of a friend, Melany Stawnyczy, also was diagnosed with leukemia. Both families had lived in Beaufort, South Carolina in the vicinity of the Laurel Bay Military Housing Complex, their children born less than two months apart.
“What a coincidence it was for both of us who were pregnant at the same time. Our husbands were stationed at Parris Island at the same time. We had lived in the same area,” Stawnyczy said.
So the two mothers did some research – and soon learned there had been environmental contamination: Some tanks buried near those Laurel Bay homes – used for heating oil – had leaked.
Online, the marine corps says when it started removing the tanks in 2007, it found “some petroleum product had escaped”. The corps says it has taken steps to clean up the sites and that its soil gas tests so far “are within acceptable limits.” but Whatley and Stawnyczy fear a known carcinogen in heating oil, benzene, which can cause leukemia, may have made their children sick.
They say 11 other families who lived near the base also have children with cancer. And of 8 of those families reached by CBS News, 5 confirmed their children were diagnosed with leukemia.
Pediatric Oncologist Dr. Beng Fuh treated Stawnyczy’s son Roman. He says exposure to benzene can increase the risk of cancer.
“In recent years there is accumulating evidence that it can also increase risk of leukemia in children,” Dr. Fuh said.
The marine corps is now doing a study of potential health hazards at the base and at military housing and says “our goal is to remain as transparent as possible throughout the process.”
These two moms say they support the military’s efforts, but believe that study is taking too long. Stawnyczy said, “I could not in good conscience stand back knowing that other children are being diagnosed. Our husbands have sacrificed years of their life serving our country. At the minimum they should feel safe to leave their families in homes, that are safe.”
The marine corps base commander has said if he learns of any definitive cancer link, he’ll inform residents and take immediate action. Town hall meetings are scheduled for later this week.
Melany’s son Roman has been in remission for a year. Amanda’s daughter Katie had a bone marrow transplant and is hanging in there.