Alarming water levels are causing cancer, pollution, and Alzheimer's in Martin County, Ind., Crane Naval Base knows it.

Braydyn The Bear Lents
Stock image of Crane Naval Base entrance in Crane, Ind.Photo byAlex Brown/Inside Indiana Business

Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center is the third largest Naval base in the world. Founded in 1941, Crane was stationed to be an active base for the storage and testing of military weaponry during World War II, according to the Naval Base history website.

After the war ended, Crane played host to storage units for the Naval base to establish the “Naval Ordnance Systems Command and began providing technical support for weapons systems, including logistics, in-service engineering, repair, overhaul, and design.”

The base reported, “In 1977, Crane Army Ammunition Activity (CAAA) became a neighbor to the Naval Weapons Support Center. With the subsequent designation of the Army as the single-service manager of conventional ammunition, CAAA was established as a tenant at Crane and took over the loading, assembly, and storage of ammunition at the installation. CAAA and NSWC Crane’s strong partnership continues today as two of the major tenants aboard the Naval Support Activity Crane.”

The last name change took place in 1992, and to this day serves for both civilians and military personnel to perform duties on the naval base including engineering, job training for high school students, construction of naval ships and cargo linears, along with marketing and communications positions.

The average pay at Crane can differ between $60,000 to $200,000 for a qualified position and has one of the best payments and benefits across the state.

At an on-base restaurant in town, many of the men and women working on the base don’t know what water they’re drinking out of the tap.

Along with the environmental concerns, which wreak havoc for those living outside of the base in cities such as Loogootee, Washington, Odon, and Shoals, Ind.

Many of the elders I have seen walk into the nursing homes and assisted living throughout the city, about 70% of people had heard of Crane, and about 60% worked at Crane Naval Base, in the U.S. military, and/or a major war at one point in their life.

Our neighbor, Linda, who has since moved to Jasper, Ind. was a GS-12 at Crane and was an influential figure in the naval base. According to family history, she worked her way up the corporate latter, and retired with a great retirement, 401k, health care, and savings package through the company.

For many, Crane is a great employment opportunity many would not pass up on, until I bring up this point.

An elderly man, Paul James Burch, died after a long battle with cancer on November 12, 2012, at the age of 54. His wife, Tracy Jeanne, and he owned a flower shop in the town of Loogootee, Ind. By the time of his passing, the company would have celebrated its 20th anniversary of business according to the Blake Funeral Home service in Loogootee.

My mother, Amy, remembered Burch as a prominent businessman, “… who always spent time outside from dusk to dawn planting flowers, and touching trees a lot,” she said. “When I heard that he had cancer, I was shocked because I thought, how does a businessman who's always outside get diagnosed with cancer?”

Over the course of his treatment, at the prominent MD Anderson Cancer Center in Anderson, Ind. for a few years, he was able to lose sight of treatment. He tried all that he could to live through chemotherapy after chemotherapy and treatment after treatment, from the prescribing doctors. Once he died, the city was stunned to know that their head gardener was now gone.

One quote that struck me to my core, as both a journalism major and a part-time resident of Loogootee, who was carried to my grandparents’ house as a baby. My mother said something I will not forget, but also raised alarms for residents such as myself, “He spent time outside from dusk to dawn planting flowers and touching trees a lot.”

Touching trees was one reason why Burch might have died from cancer, and there is sole a responsibility for accountability through Crane Naval Base.

Since the opening of the base in 1941, Crane used a combination of Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances [PFAS] through the city’s water system, according to a 2019 report by the Indiana Environmental Report.

That year, the Navy tested drinking water wells throughout the city of Crane and it’s surrounding areas.

The report said the Navy “took an inventory of its installations to determine where the aqueous film-forming foam containing PFAS may have been discharged. Eventually, it was determined the foam may have been used at NSA Crane’s firefighting training area and other locations on base. The Navy says a former fire station and a closed sanitary landfill have been identified as possible sources of PFAS contamination.”

The Navy thought the problem was just in the fire station, until you do more research, and dig up the fact that this problem is also affecting everyone in the surrounding areas of Crane.

Many people are developing Alzheimer’s at a higher rate than most of the state, and those in the naval base were most affected by this water contamination. People think the water is safe, city and well are okay to drink until you discover that the water has never been good to drink since the Navy first did an investigation in 1998.

At that point, and even now, the rate of elders with cancer, kids with autism, and elders with Alzheimer’s discovered due to drinking water by explosive materials in the group was too little to late to discover.

And the bombs, that Crane digitates once in a while, is a contributing factor as to why people in Martin County, Odon, Shoals, and Loogootee have developed diseases like Alzheimer’s, along with other issues as listed below.

This report I found this stunning because I have autism, bipolar, and a lot of the same illnesses that contributed to the water and explosive materials.

Even worse, all of us except for my sister, in my family drank the water as well until we found out more about the studies.

On February 1, 1998, the Defense Technical Information Center and the Department of Defense put Crane Naval Base under a bench-scale investigation for the shady composting of the remediations of explosives contaminating the soil for years across Crane and the surrounding regions, including Martin County, Loogootee, Daviess County, Crane, and Odon.

The investigation concluded that Crane used aging military explosive treatments for decades. Leading to the cause of mass contamination in the soil and groundwater in areas near the base. Leading to dangerous levels of underground environmental damage.

According to the final investigation by the DTIC and the Department of Defense, they concluded the explosives used until 1998 that contaminated the environment included, “2,4,6-trinitrotoluene TNT, hexahydro- 1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine RDX, and octahedron-1,3,5,7-tetranitro-1,3,5,7- tetrazocine HMX.”

The following chemicals destroying underground are hard to pronounce, but these remediations lead to one dangerous factor. The water, soil, and land surrounding the Martin County region have damaged the water supply, soil for plants and trees to grow, and most damaging of all, has caused mass illness and major medical conditions for those living near or in Crane for generations because of explosives.

According to our findings, these damages have caused long-term health issues, including PSTD-like symptoms, autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, low birth weight, accelerated puberty in children, thyroid issues, immune system damage, and long-term brain damage which is a leading factor to Alzheimer’s disease.

The Naval base has damaged the water supply in Odon and Loogootee, making them well and some regions of city water too unsafe to drink.

Photo of Burch's Lakeside Greenhouses before closing their doors after Paul's death.Photo byBurch's Lakeside Greenhouses Facebook page
Statistics that show water levels in Martin County, Ind. including Martin County, Ind.Photo byMartin County Water Report, unknown year

When Crane is challenged about this issue, as they were in a meeting on May 15, 2019, the idea of water ruining the health of people in and out of the base does not cross their mind as the company has brushed off these claims numerous times in the past.

Since 1998, the problem is still occurring in the region, and this is 2023. The elderly in Loogootee drink the water every single day, even though it is contaminated based on man-made chemicals that have been used in many consumer and industrial products since World War II.

The findings were shocking enough until you realize the U.S. military and the United States Navy are unaware of the issue. Until you think of the issue of Camp Lejune in Jacksonville, N.C. which also devilled into a similar issue for families, people, and soldiers who were also drinking contaminated water from the 1950s-1985.

Many experts fear this issue will affect people in the next ten years water levels will rise, as explosives and the ever-present threat of war is near.

To the Burch family, this question of how his tumor grew, and he had cancer, should provide a lot of answers for those in the Loogootee region as to how water levels are also creating kids with autism, bipolar, and seeing elders die from Alzheimer's and cancer.

Crane was notified about the issue, but declined to comment about their factor in the drinking water issue, but have made the issue known many times according to the Indiana Environmental Report in 2019.

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Student at Indiana University Bloomington, journalism major, Class of 2024, sports media minor, staff writer/journalist for Hoosiers Network, freelancer "It's called the American Dream cause you have to be asleep to believe it." -- George Carlin

Bloomington, IN

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