Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Atomic sailors deserve better

It happened with Agent Orange in Vietnam and the tainted water supply at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The military's handling of toxic chemicals exposes its employees to contamination, then it denies the danger years later when the health effects begin to show — and the Department of Veterans Affairs follows suit. Now Tampa Bay Times staff writer William Levesque has uncovered the story of the USS Calhoun County, a naval vessel used for up to 15 years to dump radioactive waste into the depths of the ocean, exposing crewmen to radiation in the process. The Navy is denying the radiation and VA is blocking benefits to a deceased veteran who appeared to have been sickened by exposure. A thorough investigation is warranted to discern the scope of contamination on Calhoun County and locate its victims and their families who deserve compensation and an apology.

The Navy says the Calhoun County was not a dangerous ship on which to work for the men, up to 1,000 of them, who served on the vessel after World War II, when it would routinely carry barrels of atomic waste to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for dumping. But Levesque found strong evidence that the sailors who were rolling the 55-gallon steel drums overboard, without much basic training or protective clothing, were exposed to sustained radiation at levels that can cause serious harm.

For instance, deck logs show that several shipments of radioactive waste emitted 17 rems per hour of radioactivity, despite being housed in a concrete encasement. That equals about 1,700 chest X-rays. And when the ship was decommissioned in 1962, it was not possible to reduce the radioactivity to safe enough levels for it to be sold.

But rather than locate the men who worked on the Calhoun County to track their health, the VA and Navy has ignored them or denied them VA benefits for lack of evidence that military service caused their ailments.

In the 1950s, George Albernaz was one of those who pushed contaminated barrels on the Calhoun County. He kept detailed and contemporaneous logs of the hundreds of tons of atomic waste he and his fellow crewman handled. Then, in 1988, at the age of 54, Albernaz started suffering symptoms that befuddled doctors. Eventually they tied it to one possibility, vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels that can limit blood supply to the brain or other organs — a problem that can be caused by radiation exposure. Despite the evidence, Albernaz was denied VA benefits and died of heart failure in 2009 while his case was on appeal. His widow continues to pursue the case.

Yet in 1998, the VA ruled that another crewman's death was caused by his exposure to radiation on the Calhoun County and granted benefits to his widow. But consistency isn't the VA's strong suit. The agency is better at dragging its feet and tying veterans up in red tape. Meanwhile, the Navy should be doing a better job looking out for the men who served. The evidence is overwhelming that the Calhoun County exposed its crew to dangerous radioactivity. It should be doing what it can for these men and their heirs.

Comments
Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Allowing felons a meaningful chance to reclaim their right to vote and rejoin civic life is edging closer to reality in Florida. On Tuesday the state announced that a yearslong petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot h...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Look hard into Tampa Bay and Pinellas CareerSource CEO, and get to the bottom of the numbers and the money

Editorial: Look hard into Tampa Bay and Pinellas CareerSource CEO, and get to the bottom of the numbers and the money

Something is seriously amiss at Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource agencies, which receive millions in federal and state money to match unemployed workers with local employers. First, the agencies appear to be taking credit — and money — for job placements...
Published: 01/22/18

A Chicago Tribune editorial: Shut down this shutdown habit

"Shutting down the government of the United States of America should never ever be a bargaining chip for any issue. Period. It should be to governing as chemical warfare is to real warfare. It should be banned."— Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., addressing ...
Published: 01/22/18
Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18
Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18