Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Military News

Chief of agency studying Camp Lejeune health effects resigns

The acting director of the federal agency researching the health effects of Camp Lejeune's polluted water unexpectedly resigned Tuesday, according to a notice sent to the agency's senior leadership.

It is not immediately clear why Dr. Tanja Popovic, who could not be reached to comment, stepped down. She has been acting director since Jan. 26.

But her resignation comes after she told Congress on Feb. 26 that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lacked the authority and resources to launch a study into the incidence of cancer among veterans of the North Carolina base.

The Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this month that ATSDR's own scientists said in a 2008 report that such a study was, in fact, feasible.

Up to 1 million people, including about 20,000 Floridians, were exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in the base's drinking water from 1953 to 1987. Congress has dubbed victims "Poisoned Patriots."

Popovic's assertion that ATSDR did not have authority to do the cancer-incidence study drew sharp criticism from some members of Congress, who noted the agency was created for the purpose of doing such research.

Popovic's resignation also came after she threatened to cut off communication with members of a citizens panel advising the agency on Camp Lejeune issues.

Popovic said the members were rude to her.

"I am kindly asking you again to please engage in a respectful manner of communications with me and my colleagues — that is, please state your issue and refrain from making unnecessary offensive comments about my agency," Popovic said in a recent email to retired Marine drill instructor Jerry Ensminger, a member of the citizens panel.

"Please note," she said, "that we will no longer be responding to any of the emails that contains disrespectful, condescending, and even offensive content."

Ensminger's 9-year-old daughter, Janey, died of leukemia in 1985, a death he believes is linked to Lejeune's contaminated drinking water.

Ensminger recently told Popovic he distrusted her commitment to continued Camp Lejeune research. He ended one email to her, "You just proved what I have suspected all along,"

That prompted a bristling return volley from Popovic.

"What is it that you have suspected all along?" she asked. "That I have been recognized as a Fulbright Fellow, that I have been the lead laboratory expert for (the Centers for Disease Control) during the anthrax attacks with enormous trust placed on me during that trying time by the people of this country? That I am a member of 2 National Academies of Science with over 150 peer reviewed scientific publications? That I was trusted enough to chair the US Strategic National Stockpile Committee?

"That I was trusted enough to serve on the President's Committee for Scientific Integrity? That I am recognized for my professional and scientific integrity at home and abroad? Or that I have received praise for my work directly from a U.S .President, a Senate Majority Leader, numerous senators and representatives? Or that a U.S. flag has been flown over the Capitol in recognition of my contributions to protect the country during 9/11 and anthrax attacks? What is it that you have suspected all along?"

Popovic wrote, "I take attacks on my professional and personal integrity very seriously, and I am profoundly saddened to see that you will stop at nothing."

Last week, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., in addition to U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and Republican Richard Burr, both of North Carolina, told Popovic's boss they expect her to repair the agency's relationship with the panel.

"For reasons we cannot yet discern, the desire for open communication seems to have waned within ATSDR in recent months," they said in a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Popovic also serves as director of the National Center for Environmental Health. ATSDR and the center are part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Popovic is CDC's former associate director for science and its chief science officer.

Ensminger, who told Popovic disagreement does not equate to disrespect, said the resignation is no guarantee ATSDR will conduct the cancer-incidence study.

"They have absolutely no justification for not performing this cancer-incidence study," he said. "None whatsoever."

ATSDR last month released a mortality study showing veterans of Camp Lejeune from 1975 to 1985 died of cancer 10 percent more frequently compared to a Marine Corps base with clean water. But a cancer-incidence study would show the rates of cancer among veterans who did not die of the disease.

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected],com or (813) 226-3432.

Comments
MacDill says its economic impact jumped 8 percent in three years

MacDill says its economic impact jumped 8 percent in three years

TAMPA — MacDill Air Force Base has long been a key driver of the Tampa Bay economy, spending billions on payroll, construction and retiree pensions.But just how much of a powerhouse the base is depends on how you look at the numbers presented Wednesd...
Updated: 9 hours ago
What’s it like for military families who have to move so often? Meet the Snelsons

What’s it like for military families who have to move so often? Meet the Snelsons

Alexandra Snelson sat on a brown leather couch between her younger sister and her mother and talked about what it’s like to pick up and move again and again as a military child.In June, she was introduced to her sixth home.She is only 10."Well, I do ...
Published: 08/13/18
Processing system will speed claims, care, new VA secretary tells Tampa crowd

Processing system will speed claims, care, new VA secretary tells Tampa crowd

TAMPA — Speaking to a gathering of the nation’s oldest veterans service organization, Robert Wilkie introduced himself Friday as new Department of Veterans Affairs secretary and touted a plan to fix one of the oldest challenges facing those who serve...
Published: 08/10/18
Howard Altman: Homeless veteran finally agrees to leave the woods behind

Howard Altman: Homeless veteran finally agrees to leave the woods behind

Thomas "T-Man" Brown called me up Wednesday afternoon with news that came as a welcome surprise.A former Army staff sergeant who works with Tampa Crossroads helping homeless veterans, Brown was exuberant."Randy the roofer is finally coming out of the...
Published: 08/09/18
SOCom rolls out plans for 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa

SOCom rolls out plans for 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa

TAMPA — U.S. Special Operations Command, which synchronizes the global war on terror, is gearing up for a new mission.The command is working to make sure the Department of Defense Warrior Games, which are coming to Tampa next year between June 21 and...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/12/18
Proponents win effort to have traffic signal installed in front of Haley VA hospital

Proponents win effort to have traffic signal installed in front of Haley VA hospital

TAMPA — They worked it like a military campaign — Operation Traffic Signal.It wasn’t exactly the Normandy landings, but lives will be saved, proponents promise, with their victory in a four-year effort to get a traffic signal installed in front of th...
Published: 08/03/18
Questions arise over active military burn pits as Bilirakis moves to help victims

Questions arise over active military burn pits as Bilirakis moves to help victims

PALM HARBOR — As Congress takes up legislation to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits overseas, military leaders acknowledged Wednesday that one pit still operates in Syria — as well as smaller pits throughout the Middle East where the waste tha...
Published: 08/01/18
Updated: 08/02/18
Epilogue: Michael DeLong, retired Marine three-star and former CentCom deputy commander, has died

Epilogue: Michael DeLong, retired Marine three-star and former CentCom deputy commander, has died

TREASURE ISLAND — Like a lot of young men, Michael P. DeLong got some important life advice from his father.But unlike most men, Phillip DeLong was a Marine colonel and fighter pilot who had the distinction of being an ace in World War II and Korea.T...
Updated one month ago
Return of remains from Korea brings back memories for local families

Return of remains from Korea brings back memories for local families

Sharon Cook was happy to learn Friday that the remains of U.S. service members who disappeared during the Korean War were apparently being returned after nearly seven decades."I had such a smile on my face when I read about it," said Cook, of St. Pet...
Updated one month ago
Lawsuits open window on shadowy network SOCom uses to arm Syrian rebels

Lawsuits open window on shadowy network SOCom uses to arm Syrian rebels

Three years ago, Navy veteran Francis Norwillo was handling a rocket-propelled grenade when it suddenly went off.The blast at an overseas weapons range killed him and injured four others — a driver, an interpreter and two other Americans who, like No...
Updated one month ago