This story, part of a series of investigative reporting projects by Military.com on veterans health, was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
Julie Akey was just 46 when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that she describes as an “old man's disease,” typically diagnosed in those 65 and older.
The news shocked the former Army linguist. She had no family history of the relatively uncommon disease.
While searching for a potential cause, Akey learned that a location where she once lived, Fort Ord, California, was designated a Superfund site in 1991 by the Environmental Protection Agency for extensive contamination of its soil and groundwater. Even today, parts of the former installation are so polluted, they can't be redeveloped.
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“I'm not a scientist, but in my opinion, it was the [solvent trichloroethylene],” Akey said, citing an industrial chemical used extensively by the Army that contaminates an aquifer beneath Fort Ord as the cause of her disease. “To this day, there is still a TCE plume in the water there.”
The problem is not unique to Fort Ord. Across the country and around the world, environmental pollution at active and former U.S. military sites has created the specter of potential health threats for former service members and their families who worked and lived in places now known to have been contaminated.
The list of…