Editorials

Marine families at Laurel Bay deserve more research and all information on contamination questions

A view of homes located within Laurel Bay Military Housing, constructed in the late 1950s.
A view of homes located within Laurel Bay Military Housing, constructed in the late 1950s. MCAS Beaufort

The nation owes Marines and their families a safe, decent place to live.

The Laurel Bay military housing community in Beaufort County fails that basic test in the eyes of a number of people who have lived there over the years.

In a yearlong investigation, our staff documented their painful hardships. They think environmental factors at the 60-year-old complex of some 1,100 homes have contributed to a number of illnesses for Marines, their spouses and children.

Adults and children have battled cancer. Mothers have suffered through stillbirths, miscarriages and fertility issues. Others have reported serious respiratory, digestive and blood disorders.

The Marine Corps says there is no proven link between those health problems and environmental contamination at Laurel Bay. The state health department agrees.

But those on the front lines — the residents — are not so sure. One former resident posted online this January a YouTube video she called “Laurel Bay Housing and Kids with Cancer,” the floodgates opened.

As it turned out, many other families were worried — and sick.

An active civil suit may resolve some of their questions.

But one thing that is not in question is that the families living in Laurel Bay over the years were ill-informed by the military, which withheld details of a serious problem. Old heating-oil storage tanks buried in yards were linked to the presence of benzene, a known carcinogen; and naphthalene, a possible carcinogen.

Years and years went by in which families were told no details on the presence of carcinogens in the vicinity of their homes — where children played in the dirt and their parents planted gardens. We also found questions on whether all the underground tanks were truly filled with sand when they were no longer used, or still contained heating oil.

The military says there was no direct exposure to the contamination, especially since the homes are served by a public water system, not wells.

But we also now know that a powerful pesticide was applied outside Laurel Bay homes for seven years after it was banned in the U.S. because it was considered harmful to both human health and the environment.

Also, lead-based paint was found in homes, a childcare center and playgrounds.

And residents consistently raised concerns about mold in homes. Some said the response by property managers was insufficient.

Residents who raised questions felt silenced — one saying she was told by a property manager to quit spreading rumors as her family suffered. Others said they feared retaliation against their active-duty spouses if they rocked the boat.

The military needs to do more investigating, and be much more open with families living there now, and those who lived there in the past.

After the YouTube video was posted, the Marine Corps come forward with town hall meetings.

The Marine Corps should outline in detail what it has found at Laurel Bay — and when and where.

It should make sure everyone who has lived in Laurel Bay knows results of its most recent environmental studies.

If the Marine Corps will not demolish the old houses, scorch the earth and start anew, it should demolish its penchant of keeping vital information away from Marine families who are giving their all for the nation.

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