US sailors face grim diagnoses after Fukushima mission — Courthouse News Service

” (CN) – To serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, you must meet certain health and fitness requirements: you must be fit to serve. But a healthy group of young service men and women – many in their 20s – have come down with serious health problems since serving on a humanitarian mission to Fukushima, Japan, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to a nuclear meltdown of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TepCo) nuclear power plant.

Service members have faced cancer, brain tumors, birth defects, and other rare health problems since being exposed to radiation from the Fukushima plant. Some have even died.

Courthouse News talked to some of these service members to find out what’s happened since they came home from Fukushima and why they believe TepCo needs to take responsibility.

“It was a gray smoke that surrounded you, and you didn’t even know what it was”

Naval officer Angel Torres, 47, said he knew his mission to South Korea would be redirected to Fukushima as soon as the earthquake hit. He was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the first aircraft carrier deployed by the United States to Fukushima as part of humanitarian mission Operation Tomodachi to render aid and supplies to the Japanese people.

He said when the ship arrived he got “an eerie feeling.”

“It was like a cloud I’ve never seen, a gray smoke that surrounded you and you didn’t even know what it was,” Torres said.

Torres said once Navy personnel realized they’d directed the aircraft carrier straight through a radiation plume, there was confusion and a sense of panic. People bought up all the Gatorade and water at the ship store in fear there wouldn’t be water available.

He said they had to drive back through the plume a second time to render aid, and were issued gas masks to wear.

Helicopters which took supplies to people on land “were completely contaminated,” Torres said. Helicopter pilots and personnel were required to throw out their clothes, scrub down and get tested for radiation.

“We all volunteered to join and sometimes you have to do dangerous things, and this was one of them,” Torres said.

“It was our turn.”

The naval officer said commanders told the service members the amount of radiation they were exposed to was negligible, similar to flying in an airplane or eating a banana. Torres said the executive officer of the ship even told the crew they would be fine unless they licked the flight deck.

“That did well to pacify and stabilize the sentiment and general feeling throughout the ship, but I don’t know that I agree with that one bit, because I’ve eaten a lot of bananas,” Torres said.

Twenty-six-year-old Marine Corps veteran Nathan Piekutowski was in Malaysia on a rest stop when his crew on the USS Essexx got word of the tsunami and headed toward Fukushima. He was part of a team that landed to deliver food and supplies, and they wore biological chemical suits.

“Some areas were completely destroyed, it looked like a wall had smashed everything and a hand drew everything back out to sea,” Piekutowski said.

Piekutowski said crew members were also required to take iodine pills to help mitigate radiation exposure and potential thyroid impacts. They closed up all the windows and hatches on the ship as well.

Radiation impacts on sailors’ health

Piekutowski left the Marine Corps shortly after his service in Fukushima. He began exhibiting extreme weight loss and limb swelling months later, in November 2012. He experienced eyesight loss and vomited stomach acid before going to the emergency room on Christmas Day.

He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 21.

“The type of leukemia I had usually is something you get later in life. Early onset can be caused from being around certain types of chemicals,” Piekutowski said.

The following days and months included chemotherapy treatments, but after his leukemia came back less than six months into remission, the Marine received a stem cell transplant. He’s since faced day-long doctor appointments with specialists which require him to take time off work and travel out of town.

Piekutowski disputes TepCo’s contention the service members who’ve faced cancer and other health problems since returning from Fukushima were predisposed to those conditions. The utility claims their health problems are not from the radiation exposure.

“If that were the case, TepCo would have disseminated all the information it should have,” Piekutowski said, referring to the utility’s initial withholding of information after the nuclear meltdown.

“If we were predisposed to a genetic mutation or illness, why lie and cover things up?”

When Torres returned from Fukushima he said he felt weak and tired and didn’t feel like being intimate with his significant other, something out of the ordinary given what Torres called the “honeymoon effect” when a service member returns home from deployment.

When working out six months after coming home, Torres got a hernia which required surgery. Two years later, he had another one.

“I thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m breaking down here, what’s going on?’” Torres said.

He exhibited symptoms of multiple sclerosis and had an MRI scan, but a spinal tap last month showed Torres does not have the disease.

Torres also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he manages through therapy and volunteering with veterans organizations in Chicago.

He said he wishes TepCo would have done “the right thing” and told U.S. officials about the nuclear meltdown before sailors were exposed to radiation.

“When I would deploy to the Middle East, I had a team of sailors and I would look at their wives and children and say: ‘I’m going to make sure your mom and dad are okay. I wish someone would have done that for me,” Torres said.

“There are people that are dying from that carrier. They need to know what these people endured and help them get the help that they need.”

Seeking Justice

Torres and Piekutowski are part of a class action of over 420 sailors suing TepCo and General Electric in San Diego’s federal court. While eight of the sailor-plaintiffs have already died – most from cancer – since the first case was filed in 2012, many others have yet to experience any symptoms and want Tepco to foot the bill for medical monitoring and testing and future health care costs over their lifetime.

The class is represented by high-profile attorneys – former Sen. John Edwards and his daughter Cate Edwards with Edwards Kirby out of North Carolina, along with Charles Bonner of Bonner & Bonner in Sausalito, California, and Paul Garner of San Diego.

In a phone interview, Cate Edwards said there are 23 plaintiffs living with cancer, many of whom served in Fukushima in their early 20s and some as young as 18 years old. In addition to the group facing cancer diagnoses, many of the sailors have degenerative diseases, with some losing mobility and use of their arms and legs in addition to experiencing back problems and eyesight loss.

A 26-month-old toddler born to a sailor-father who served in Fukushima died from brain and spine cancer. Another female sailor opted to end a pregnancy after finding out the fetus had severe birth defects, Edwards said.

“Why are all these young, healthy, fit people getting cancer? Experiencing thyroid issues? It’s too strange to be a coincidence,” Edwards said.

“That just doesn’t happen absent some external cause. All of these people experienced the same thing and were exposed to radiation at Fukushima. A lot of this is just common sense.”

The class has been fighting to get their day in court and get a trial date set. They will inch toward that goal with a motion to dismiss hearing scheduled for Jan. 4. ”

by Bianca Bruno, Courthouse News Service

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Local servicemen may have radiation poisoning from Fukushima — San Diego City Beat

” With a class action lawsuit pending, hundreds of Navy sailors say they can’t get the help they need.

“Right now, I know I have problems, but I’m afraid of actually finding out how bad they really are,” said William Zeller, a 33-year-old active-duty Navy servicemember living in San Diego. He’s one of the 4,500 sailors who were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan during Operation Tomodachi, a humanitarian aid mission sent to Japan the day after a tsunami triggered the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown.

“I know there’s something wrong,” Zeller said. “I’ve got many other people around me telling me I don’t look good, and I need to get checked out. While I am a workaholic, it’s a distraction.”

Zeller is only one of 318 sailors (and counting) who have joined a billion-dollar class action lawsuit filed in 2012 against the nuclear generators’ operating company, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, for injuries allegedly caused by radiation exposure.

The lawsuit argues TEPCO is financially responsible for the sailors’ medical care because the operating company, admittedly, did not inform the Japanese government of the meltdown. In turn, the Japanese government unknowingly misinformed the U.S. Navy of potential dangers of anchoring off the coast of Japan where the ship was engulfed in a plume of radiation for several hours.

“Everywhere we went we had to carry [gas masks] on our hips,” Zeller said. “We were turning on news networks, and we could see how we were right in the plume. You could taste the metallic air.”

In the six years since Fukushima, Zeller has only sought medical attention from the Navy since the care is financially covered.

“The military health system is a process, putting it politely,” he said, explaining how it took four years to learn he had abnormal bone growth, nerve damage and what he believes is irritable bowel syndrome, all of which began a year after Operation Tomodachi. His weight fluctuates 20 to 30 pounds within a month, and he’s unendingly fatigued.

“Before I went [on the USS Ronald Reagan], I used to be a martial arts instructor,” he said. “I used to go on regular bike rides. I hiked. I was in very good shape. Now, I wear a breathing machine when I go to sleep because I have respiratory problems. I literally just go to work and go home now. I don’t have the energy or the pain threshold to deal with anything else.”

Considering the Veterans Association’s inability to treat members in a timely or efficient manner, Zeller’s lawyer, Paul Garner, said VA care is not an option. Instead, they’re hopeful that a fund set up by former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will come to fruition.

Koizumi announced the creation of the fund while visiting 10 affected sailors, including Zeller, in San Diego in May. Koizumi said he expects to raise $2 million by a March 31 cutoff date. The plan is to then transfer the money to the U.S. to supplement the sailor’s medical bills at, according to Garner, some of the best care centers across the country.

However, Garner knows $2 million won’t be enough to cover every need, especially since some sailors have reported symptoms appearing in their children who were born after Operation Tomodachi.

“I have no idea if it’s caused by the radiation that I was exposed to on the Reagan, but I don’t know that it’s not,” said Jason F., who was also on board the USS Ronald Reagan but didn’t want to share his last name while he’s still active duty. His breathing is audible over the phone, as if climbing several sets of stairs, but he’s tucking his three-year-old daughter into bed at their San Diego home.

“That’s standard breathing for me,” he said. “I don’t know what to do about it. She has difficulty breathing too,” he said of his daughter, who was born in 2013. “She snores like a grown man.”

Jason is 36 years old, in shape, never smoked a day in his life and didn’t have trouble breathing until after his time on the USS Ronald Reagan. His respiratory difficulties have aggrandized since 2011, peaking during a 2016 deployment where the doctors told him the contrasting temperatures were to blame and gave him an inhaler to puff on. It took a formal request to fly him off the ship to receive medical treatment in Bahrain, where he was told he had a 60 percent chance of tuberculosis and a 40 percent chance of lung cancer. He has since been diagnosed with asthma by an outside specialist, although the treatments aren’t working.

“It’s difficult for them to figure out,” Jason said. “I mean, how many patients have they had that are exposed to radiation? And are they trained for that?”

When Zeller mentioned radiation exposure to doctors at the Navy, he said he was told it was interesting, if acknowledged at all.

Lung cancer is one of several cancers associated with high radiation exposure, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website, as well as leukemia, which several sailors have been diagnosed with. Bloody noses, rectal and gynecological bleeding, weakness and ulcers, are also symptoms reported by the sailors and are signs of radiation poisoning, according to the Scripps Health website.

In 2014, the Department of Defense published a report acknowledging that radiation exposure can cause such medical issues, but that the exposure levels were too low and the symptoms appeared too soon to make a connection.

While Zeller and Jason hope for financial support either from Koizumi’s fund or by winning the lawsuit, they want support for the others affected.

“I’m experiencing symptoms, but it’s not just for me,” Zeller said. “It’s for the individuals who are way worse than me and to bring attention to them… They have tumors, cancers, birth defects in their children, some individuals have mass muscle fatigue where their entire half of their body isn’t functional anymore, and they are stuck in wheelchairs. I am currently on the better end.”

The sailors are waiting for a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determining whether the lawsuit will continue in the United States or in Japan, if at all.

In January, TEPCO urged the court to dismiss the case, citing that it is a political matter that could impact international relations.

Jason said the lawsuit is about more than money, specifically when it comes to his daughter’s future.

“I just want accountability,” he said. “I want her taken care of. Whatever that takes.” ”

by Torrey Bailey

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US sailors sue TEPCO for radioactive fallout cover-up — Ecological Options Network; New York Post

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” US sailors and military personnel are suffering serious health effects as a result of exposure to radioactive fallout during relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Can they sue the nuclear plant’s Japanese operator, TEPCO, in an American jurisdiction for withholding accurate radiation data from US military authorities that might have prevented their exposure?

That’s the case being brought by a growing list of plaintiffs and their attorneys in a San Diego court. The sailors and marines were exposed to radioactive fallout for many days during Navy relief efforts led by the San Diego-based nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan in the 3/11 triple nuclear meltdown at Fukuhima, Japan following a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

In this video, plaintiffs Lindsay Cooper and Mathew Bradley, together with their attorneys Charles Bonner, Paul Garner and Cabral Bonner report their experiences and lay out their case.

The judge has given them until January 6, 2014 to file a revised version of their complaint. ”

Continue reading about the USS Ronald Reagan sailors and plaintiff Lindsay Cooper on the New York Post.