Huge ALS cluster at Kelly AFB ignored by authorities

The largest ALS cluster to have been identified so far is amongst employees of Kelly Air Force Base, decommissioned in 2001. The families of the victims declared to investigators that a total of 140 employees died of ALS, but because the death certificates usually mentioned "aspiration pneumonia" or similar ALS-related causes of death, the health authorities refused to recognize those deaths as ALS, and the figure was therefore "spun down" to 39 deaths - still highly anomalous:[1]


Concern was raised after media reports of what appeared to be unusually high incidence of ALS among base workers who met at a support group sponsored by the San Antonio ALSA chapter. In 1999, the South Texas chapter of the ALSA reported a suspected cluster of cases to the Air Force and regional health authorities. The Air Force Institute for Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health Risk Analysis and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District then launched an investigation into mortality from all causes at the base, including cancer and ALS.

An initial informal survey by the ALSA chapter found 39 workers and former workers with ties to Kelly who said they or a family member had been diagnosed with ALS or ALS-like symptoms. Ultimately, Kelly families reported 140 deaths from ALS but the researchers were unable to confirm most cases because ALS was not cited on the death certificates. Including these would have biased the study because national and state comparison figures were exclusively based on death certificate data, Dr. Armon explained.


A relative's take on the case:[2]


Well I have been doing research on ALS since 99 and I am 98% positive it is cause by the environment. My father passed from this back in Jan 01. Along with 112 people from his building at Kelly AFB in San Antonio. The numbers are high also in MS, Parkinson's, Alzh. There is a huge cluster of neurological diseases coming out of Kelly AFB. They closed Kelly down shortly after my father passed and the first building they torn down was my Dad's.


Even though the health authorities fudged the numbers, the remaining 39 ALS deaths were still a big deal:[3]


Texas ALS Cluster Could Be 'Incredibly Important,' Experts Say

Renowned ALS researcher and clinician Hiroshi Mitsumoto says a recently identified cluster of 39 cases of ALS at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, could be "incredibly important" in the quest to identify potential environmental and genetic factors underlying ALS.

Mitsumoto, who directs the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York said that, while other ALS clusters have been identified over the years, "this is certainly, to my knowledge, a huge number, which is most unusual and which we cannot ignore.

"We need to investigate and not let this opportunity go by without finding out the cause. First, every effort should be made to see if those 39 patients are truly ALS or if other diseases have been included," he emphasized.

If the 39 current and former Kelly employees who are thought to have ALS do have the disease, Mitsumoto said, "My great hope is that the Defense Department will convene some kind of investigation team."

ALS, he says, doesn't have just one cause, "but multiple causes, all of which can lead to cell death in motor neurons."

Health authorities were quick to dismiss the notion of an ALS cluster, and ALS patient advocacy sites reported:[4]


No ALS ‘Cluster' Found at Kelly Air Force Base

When 39 cases of ALS were identified in 1999 among current and former employees at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, area residents and experts wondered what that might mean.

But a thorough investigation, conducted by the Air Force Institute for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health Risk Analysis, and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, has failed to confirm the existence of an ALS "cluster" at the base.

The study results are published in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.


Case closed! The US military did a "thorough" investigation and concluded with: "There is nothing to see here". The families of the deceased said that 140 base workers died of ALS but the Air Force disagreed. Who is right?

Such wiping under the carpet of extreme ALS clusters amounts to the deliberate sabotage of ALS research. The military is understandably not eager to assume legal responsibility for the deaths of over a hundred people, so it is understandable that they want to make the issue go away, in case the cause turns out to be exposure to toxic chemicals. However from an epidemiological research point of view, this is yet another major setback in finding the cause - or at least one major cause - of ALS.

ALS patients' groups expressed dismay at the way the study was conducted:[5]


ALS Community Protests Kelly AFB Findings

A flurry of criticism followed the recent verdict that there's apparently no "ALS cluster" among workers at the former Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

After results of the investigation were published in November in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, some professionals and families in the ALS community expressed disappointment. Most of the criticisms centered on two points: that the study didn't include people living with ALS but only those who'd died of it; and that the study excluded all military personnel who had worked on the base, counting only civilians.

ALS cluster in Kelly Air Force Base

When we look at the former base, we see that its parking (upper left) is adjacent to a large wooded area through which a stream flows.

The entire base area is surrounded by and interspersed with grass lands and Pearsall Park, a large recreational area, is directly south of the base:[6]

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