Marines

Military moms fear contaminants at housing base are giving children cancer

  • katie and amanda 3

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     (Kristin Seward Photography )

  • katie 1

     (Kristin Seward Photography )

The Marine Corps says it is addressing the concerns of a military mom who posted a YouTube video warning about what she claims are potential cancer risks for anyone who has resided at her family’s former military housing unit in South Carolina.

Amanda and Joshua Whatley’s daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 6 in 2015. The family lived in the Laurel Bay Military Housing community in Beaufort, S.C., from July 2007 to November 2010, while Joshua Whatley was stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

Laurel Bay, an 1,100-acre community that was built in the 1950s, contains mostly single-family military housing.

In a YouTube video she posted on Jan. 7, Amanda Whatley says Katie is one of eight children she knows of who lived at Laurel Bay and have been diagnosed with cancer.

“The purpose of my video today is to sort of tell you our story,” Whatley says on camera. “Talk about Katie, tell you about her cancer and her diagnosis, in hopes that you will share this video with the military families that you know that have potentially been stationed at Parris Island and lived in the Laurel Bay housing area.”

The video had been viewed more than 43,000 times by Thursday morning, and Whatley has already updated its caption to note that “The number of children with cancer has grown from 8 to 13 since the video went live. I have also received emails from at least 20 adults who were stationed in Beaufort and then diagnosed with cancer.”

In an exclusive interview with FoxNews.com, Whatley explained why she made the emotional video.

“This is not an angry video. My husband is still on active duty. This is our lifeblood,” she said. “The motivating factor is how many children have been diagnosed with cancer, and since the video was published … the number is up to 13.

“I don’t want someone to die or get sick. I want people to know the signs of cancer, so if they see them, their child can get treated.”

A cancer connection?

Whatley, who now lives with her family in Norfolk, Va., said she connected with another military mom, Melany Stawnyczyj, after Katie was diagnosed because she knew Stawnyczyj’s son, Roman, had been diagnosed with leukemia in September 2012, when he was 4.

Stawnyczyj had also lived at Laurel Bay.

Whatley told her doctor about Roman, and the doctor wondered if it might be more than a coincidence. Katie’s oncology team soon determined that more children who had lived at Laurel Bay had been diagnosed with cancer between 2012 and 2015.

“We started with seven cases,” Whatley said. “Six of them agreed to participate in the investigation of the base.

“They have all been verified by the medical officer in charge of the investigation. The eighth child was diagnosed in December, which is what prompted the video.”

Whatley said her husband and Melany’s husband, Marko Stawnyczyj, also an active duty Marine, met with senior members of the Marine Corps to express their concerns on March 13, 2015. The servicemen, whose wives were not present, said they requested that all residents who had lived or were living at Laurel Bay be notified of the potential health risk. 

In a statement sent to FoxNews.com, Capt. Clayton Groover, the public affairs officer for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, wrote that the Marines had initiated a study in June 2015 “to determine if an exposure pathway exists for potential health hazards aboard Laurel Bay, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. That study is under way. At the conclusion of the study, the findings will be released to the families and the public.”

He wrote that every effort has been made to keep families informed. “Our goal is to remain as transparent as possible throughout the process and to provide the NMCPHC study results when complete."

Groover said he understood why Whatley made her video.

“We feel for any family when their child is diagnosed with a disease. Our thoughts and prayers are with these children and their families…. It took real courage for this mom to tell her story in such a candid and sincere way, and for her to remain so strong for her daughter.”

Look underground

Melany Stawnyczyj told FoxNews.com that the investigation is focusing on possible contamination from underground fuel tanks at Laurel Bay.

The military says “that over 1,000 tanks have been removed, all tanks that were on their map,” she said. “They admit to have found tanks that were not mapped. Instead of one, they would often find three on a property.

“There are many that were not mapped that they came across. Some houses had two, three tanks underneath. They have not stated how the area has been cleaned out.”

FoxNews.com obtained a letter dated March 26, 2015, in which a military official said he would be reviewing the Whatley and Stawnyczyj families’ list of requests, which include notifying families; determining if the tanks are sources of contamination; creating a database that tracks diagnoses of medical diseases, disabilities and disorders; and determining whether there is a distinguishable pattern that can be attributed to geographical or environmental factors.

On Jan. 9, two days after her friend Whatley posted her YouTube video, Stawnyczyj wrote a letter to the military point of contact for the environmental study stating: “Many current and previous military residents of Laurel Bay housing have responded and communicated their lack of knowledge of the situation. We are at a count of 13 diagnosed children. Childhood cancer is rare. We cannot move slowly anymore. Two years have passed and that is time too long wasted in waiting for results without fair warning.”

Katie and Roman today

Katie Whatley is 8 now. She recently received a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister, but the procedure has brought many complications. 

“We really don’t know. We don’t have a clear future for Katie,” her mom said. “I would have got her checked out a lot sooner if I knew about the other children on the base.”

Roman Stawnyczyj completed his chemotherapy treatments in November 2015. “He had his surgery to remove his port in May of 2016,” his mom said. “He saw the oncologist once a month until his November anniversary. Now he sees oncology every other month. Every anniversary we add a month to the wait of visitation. Eventually it will be annually, but he will be seeing a doctor for the rest of his life.”

Katie and Roman’s moms have created an open forum, Concerned Military Family United by Pediatric Cancer Beaumont, on Facebook for families who have lived at or are currently living at Laurel Bay and have been diagnosed or fear they may be diagnosed with cancer.

Fox News.com Reporter and FOX411 host Diana Falzone covers celebrity news and interviews some of today's top celebrities and newsmakers.  You can follow her on Twitter @dianafalzone.