Local News

Army taking new look at Bragg baby deaths

Posted March 31, 2011 1:10 p.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2011 6:02 p.m. EDT

— Army Secretary John McHugh said Thursday that he has asked a special team of investigators to examine Fort Bragg housing in the wake of the unexplained deaths of a dozen young children in the last four years.

Separately, Army investigators said that tests conducted in military housing at Fort Bragg found no elevated pesticide levels that would pose a health hazard.

The Army Criminal Investigative Command has been investigating the deaths of 12 children under age 2 in Fort Bragg housing since the beginning of 2007.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted earlier testing that found levels of two pesticides – permethrin and cypermethrin – were on the "upper end of normal" but were not enough to be hazardous.

So, the Army had an independent lab conduct additional tests to rule out any link between pesticides and the baby deaths.

CPSC officials noted, however, that normal levels are based on adult exposure and that similar limits don't exist for infants.

Fort Bragg has tested 10 homes connected to the deaths for carbon monoxide, mercury vapor, mold, lead, asbestos and toxins in the drywall. All tests were negative or were at levels well below the standard for human exposure set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, officials said.

The CPSC also found no problems with drywall in the homes, no water or air contamination and no overt mold growth.

McHugh said the lack of answers prompted him to send a team of chemists, architects and environmental health experts to conduct another analysis. He said he expects their report in the near future.

"It is incredibly frustrating to see the loss of 12 infants ... and not be able to find an answer," McHugh told U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "We don't want to leave any stone unturned, but quite frankly, from a scientific standpoint, we are getting to the end of what we know to be the available investigative tools."

One of the infant deaths was attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but the cause of death of the others has never been determined.

Two infants died in the same house at Fort Bragg within three months. The other deaths occurred in different neighborhoods on post and in homes of varying ages and construction styles, according to Army officials.