U.S. OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL INFORMS CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT THAT NAVY REPORT CONCERNING
POTENTIAL PCB EXPOSURE AT NAVAL AIR STATION DOES NOT COMPLY WITH LAW
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 1/4/00
CONTACT: JANE MCFARLAND
Today, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 1213, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel
(OSC), transmitted to the President and to the Congress, the Department of the Navy’s report of investigation concerning whistleblower allegations of violations of law, rule, or regulation and a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety at the Naval Air Station (NAS), in Alameda, California. The whistleblowers, who made their disclosures to
OSC, claimed that they and other Navy firefighters were exposed to PCB contamination for a period in excess of ten years and that Naval authorities had violated law and regulation by failing to warn them of the existence of the contaminants or provide them with protective equipment.
In its report in response to the allegations, the Navy admitted that it had violated the law by not informing the firefighters of the contaminants present at the site, but cited an earlier study for the proposition that the health risk for inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact with potentially dangerous materials within the affected sites was negligible. In transmitting the Navy’s report to the President and Congress, Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan found that the Navy failed to include much of the information required by law, including, among other things, a description of the conduct of the Navy’s investigation into the allegations or a description of the corrective action the Navy intends to take. Nor did the report indicate that the Navy intended to take disciplinary action against the individual who was serving as Fire Chief at the Air Station, for failing to distribute a Hazard Communication to employees.
The Navy investigation was triggered by disclosures made to the OSC by Mr. Martinson and Mr.
Beesley, former Navy firefighters who were stationed at NAS, Alameda, between 1985 and 1994. They alleged that as far back as 1983, the Navy had evidence that certain areas regularly used by firefighters for training and storage were contaminated with high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and lead. They claimed that they and other firefighters worked regularly in the contaminated areas at NAS, Alameda, without knowledge of the contaminants and without appropriate protective equipment, despite federal laws and an order from the California Department of Health Services requiring the Navy to investigate the contamination and take remedial action. The whistleblowers alleged that in 1990, the Commanding Officer at NAS, Alameda, issued a Hazard Communication for areas including the firefighters’ training grounds, to be distributed to all NAS, Alameda, employees, and that the Fire Division Chief failed to distribute this notice to firefighters.
The OSC found that Mr. Martinson’s and Mr. Beesley’s disclosures demonstrated a substantial likelihood of violations of law and substantial and specific danger to public health and safety, and forwarded the allegations to the Navy, directing it to conduct an investigation and provide a written report.
The Navy report cites a 1997 study by the Navy Environmental Health Center
(NEHC), which found that the total health risk for inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact of all potentially dangerous or carcinogenic materials within the affected sites was negligible. It admits, however, that the then-acting Fire Division Chief did not distribute the Hazard Communication to firefighters, and that the Navy violated federal occupational and health laws and the California order by not providing to employees all information concerning the contaminants present on the site and the corresponding risks to employees.
NAS, Alameda, was closed in April 1997. In 1997, the Navy conducted a two million-dollar clean up of the sites. The whistleblowers take issue with the methods and conclusions of the NEHC study, which they say are unreliable and contradict previous Navy site studies.
The Navy report stated that it is taking steps to place statements reflecting the exposure into the medical records of all affected firefighters. Acknowledging that the Navy failed to inform the firefighters of the information that was available concerning the chemicals known to exist at these sites, the report states that the Under Secretary is “considering appropriate remedial actions to preclude any similar oversights from occurring onboard U.S. Navy installations and vessels in the future.”
In transmitting the Navy’s Report to Congress and the President, Special Counsel Kaplan noted that it was not in compliance with law because it was not signed by the Secretary of the Navy (or his duly authorized delegate); it did not contain a description of the conduct of the investigation or the action planned as a result of the investigation; it failed to explain the basis for the Navy’s legal conclusion that it was not required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act to supply protective equipment, establish a site control program, or engage in medical surveillance of employees; and it did not explain its apparent decision not to take any disciplinary action against the former NAS Fire Chief.
Among its other functions, the Office of Special Counsel provides federal employees with a secure channel for blowing the whistle on violations of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement or waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. The OSC is empowered to require agencies to conduct investigations whenever it finds a substantial likelihood that a federal employee’s disclosures demonstrate the existence of one of these conditions, and to report back to the OSC its findings along with any corrective action taken. After the OSC reviews the report to insure that it contains the necessary information and that its findings appear reasonable, the OSC transmits the report to the President and the Congress for further action by those entities, if appropriate.
Copies of the Navy report, Mr. Martinson’s and Mr. Beesley’s comments, and Special Counsel Kaplan’s transmittal letter can be obtained by contacting the