As the Commanding Officer of MCAS Beaufort, I am not only responsible for the Air Station Housing Areas, like Laurel Bay; I am also a Laurel Bay resident. A large part of my mission to provide continuous supporting establishment operations in support of 2d Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) units, and Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island/Eastern Recruiting Region (ERR) in order to set the conditions for the enduring success of the supported commands and their missions, is my responsibility for the well-being of our Marines and families. My staff and I, along with leaders from Marine Corps Installations East through Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, take our responsibilities very seriously. To be perfectly clear - providing a housing community that is safe, healthy, and enjoyable for our Marines, families, and friends is critical to our mission, our community, and is my commitment to you. My staff and I will take action to eliminate anything that threatens the safety, health, or enjoyment of our residents in Laurel Bay Housing.
Overview of Laurel Bay Housing Area:
The Laurel Bay Housing Area contains about 1100 homesites and is located approximately 5 miles west of Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, South Carolina. The Housing area opened in the mid-1950s and is home to many Parris Island and MCAS Marines and their families. Most of the original housing used oil as an energy source for heating. The oil needed to be stored in tanks on site for convenience. As local practice and typical construction warranted, heating oil storage tanks were buried in the ground near enough to homes to easily supply heating oil. Some of the tanks required replacement, or at times, a new tank was installed and the previous tank placed out-of-service (either removed or filled with dirt). In the 1980’s, Laurel Bay converted all heating to geothermal and the heating oil tanks were placed out-of-service by draining and filling with dirt.
Underground Storage Tank (UST) Removal Program:
As part of our continual effort to improve housing, we began an underground storage tank removal program in 2007. Although residential tank removals are not required by either state or federal regulations, we decided to remove the long out-of-service tanks to help ensure better environmental conditions and healthier homes. In 2007, work began to execute a residential UST removal program that MCAS developed in coordination with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DEHC). When removing tanks, we discovered that some of the petroleum product had escaped and we took the appropriate steps to mitigate any contamination and clean up the sites. Some areas required installing monitoring wells, as described below.
As of September 2015, we determined the removal phase of the project to be complete. All known tanks (1251) have been removed from the approximately 1100 homesites.
The process for removing tanks:
I understand that you may be interested in learning more about the process for removing tanks, and we are working to provide a discussion of that information.
Beaufort County water (including all military bases in the county) comes primarily from the Savannah River, not groundwater or wells in the county or on installations:
Since 1965, all of our drinking water comes from the Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (BJWSA) from sources away from the installations – primarily the Savannah River. The water is regularly tested and in compliance with federal and state drinking water standards. Even the water in our irrigation system is supplied from BJWSA. Information about water treatment and quality can be found at the BJWSA website. I understand you may have additional questions about the water supply to Laurel Bay. The link is provided here: http://bjwsa.org/
Groundwater testing and monitoring program:
Typically, the primary concern with escaped petroleum products is the potential for it to get into groundwater. In working with the state to develop a program for residential tank removal and as part of an effort to ensure safe conditions, many of the tanks showed enough leakage to warrant the installation of monitoring wells into the water table to determine if heating oil is in Laurel Bay groundwater. Of 1251 removed tanks, 636 required no further action (NFA) or monitoring. For the other tank sites, our process prompted us to provide 426 monitoring wells – of which, 383 have been installed (9 are now NFA and for the rest, we determined that no health threat exists and no action is required, although we continue monitoring) with the remaining 43 scheduled for installation in the spring of 2017. I understand you may be interested in additional information about groundwater testing, and we are working to provide discussion and additional information. A link will be made available here in a future update.
Soil gas testing:
The soil gas (vapor intrusion) testing that I have directed be done in our Laurel Bay community is not based on meeting some minimum standard required by regulation – instead it is based on the best practices observed by industry leaders and is being done to dismiss the potential for health risks now and in the future.
As part of a housing modernization project, a group of houses were demolished in a subdevelopment of one of the neighborhoods. While not required, it was decided that prior to continuing work, samples of gas should be collected from the soil in order to determine if gases from decomposition or natural evaporation of escaped heating oil could remain in the soil. With assistance from the SC DHEC, we determined that we would sample approximately 1/3 of the sites where the most heating oil leakage was found, and logically, would be the most likely to have gases in the soil. A similar process was done at another group of houses about to be demolished for a combined sampling of 39 sites. All 39 of these samples (each tested for 6 separate gases) were tested and results are below the level at which the current recommendations from federal agencies and best industry practices recommend additional testing or monitoring. It was at this point that we reconsidered the nearly completed UST removals because some of the old building drawings indicated some tanks (34 sites) were installed where the house had improvements that may cover all or portions of the tanks (this included patios, garages, driveways, and similar added improvements). Because this would represent a new “worst-case” situation, we conducted an open house in April of 2016 to announce and discuss that using our cautious approach, there existed suspicion of the possibility that some tanks were previously (or still remained) in the ground and very close or even under portions of dwellings, we would be conducting soil gas sampling in 34 occupied homesites. Upon closer inspection with ground penetrating radar, metal detectors, and other equipment, to try to find sampling points directly above tanks; no additional tanks were found, and we were able to declare UST removal complete in September 2015. Of the 34 samples tested, 32 were determined to be within acceptable limits for all 6 gases. At the remaining 2 sample sites, one gas has prompted tests through the floor inside the homes. These 2 samples were collected on 9 January 2017 and results should be available in March. I will provide an update as soon as I am able. We are working with these two residents, and would appreciate your respect for their privacy and continued quiet enjoyment of their homes and our community. I understand you may be interested in additional information on soil gas testing and I am providing additional information here:
The Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) Study:
In February 2015 two former Laurel Bay residents expressed their health concerns about pediatric cancers on social media. We reached out to those families and coordinated a meeting with them. Since that time, we have actively engaged the appropriate medical and public health experts in working toward determining if there are any completed exposure pathways of significance to contaminants that could be associated with their expressed health concerns (such as lead based paint, radon, mold, asbestos, etc.). As a precaution and in response to these concerns, we asked NMCPHC to conduct a public health review (PHR) to include an environmental and epidemiological study for Laurel Bay, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. This study started in June of 2015, and will continue to ensure that the results are as complete and as certain as possible. The tradeoff is the time it takes to analyze the information in order to have certainty. If there is a potential association between completed exposure pathways from conditions at Laurel Bay and/or working at MCAS, I want to know about it and understand it so that I can take appropriate actions to correct it.
A former resident of Laurel Bay recently posted an internet video with the desire to provide a public service. In the video, the mother of a child diagnosed with cancer courageously and candidly tells her story and encourages parents to promptly and actively seek medical attention if there is any concern for a child’s health. I whole-heartedly agree with her encouragement to seek medical attention promptly if you suspect anyone in your family to be ill. I anticipate meeting with her again soon, and will continue to cooperate with her to assist the ongoing study. As she pointed out in the video, we and these families have been cooperating in order to determine if a health problem exists, and then work to determine the extent of any health issues in Laurel Bay. We all feel sympathy for any family confronted with the challenge of serious illness, especially when it affects their child. Our thoughts and prayers are with these children and their families and anyone in our military family fighting disease or illness.
Concerns about potential links to cancer:
On January 13, 2017, MCAS Beaufort received a report of data from SC DHEC informing us of cancer rates in the 29906 zip code, which includes all of Laurel Bay Housing. The data shows neither an increased rate of cancer nor cancer fatalities in the zip Code around Laurel Bay. While this information provides additional perspective, I will continue supporting the families involved, Laurel Bay Housing residents, and the more specific NMCPHC study that is underway. Additional information is available here Data and Information
I am acting consistently with guidelines by treating with great sensitivity, personal information about the families and information about the study which includes private medical information of subjects, some of whom have not authorized public sharing. I ask that you consider the privacy of those who are grieving, and limit the sharing of your sympathy and other discussions to those who are willing.
We want to limit speculation and eliminate the potential for misinformed discussion about a study in progress. My staff and I are supporting the study by providing all of the existing data requested and gathering additional data to support additional requests from NMCPHC for use in the study. As professionals, we are specifically avoiding making inferences or developing our own judgments, on either side of this very difficult, very personal, and very human issue. Drawing a conclusion or sharing personal opinions about causation before the NMCPHC study is completed is counter-productive and may harm fellow Marine families. There is also the potential to create a lot of unnecessary fear. If I become aware of a link to cancer, I will inform you as I take immediate actions to protect our families.
I am providing this new portion of the website to provide easier access to useful information so that you can develop your own understanding of the conditions at Laurel Bay, and what we’re doing to continually improve our Lowcountry home. If you have ideas for the improvement of distributing reliable information more efficiently, I am very interested in your thoughts.
Please provide any comments or questions through the Public Affairs Office at (843) 228-6229 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org