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Camp Lejeune, Onslow County, NC

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Disease: Birth defects, childhood cancer, male breast cancer

Residents report that birth defects, stunted growth, and cancers may be linked to contaminated drinking water at this military base. In the early 1980’s tests conducted by a private firm found that water wells on the base contained cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), but the wells were not shut down until 1985.

The Camp Lejeune water contamination problem occurred at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987. During that time, United States Marine Corps (USMC) servicemembers and their families living at the base apparently bathed in and ingested tap water that was contaminated with harmful chemicals. An undetermined number of former base residents later developed cancer or other ailments, which many blame on the contaminated drinking water. Victims claim that USMC leaders concealed knowledge of the problem and did not act properly in trying to resolve it or notify former base residents that their health might be at risk. In 2009 and 2010 the US federal government initiated investigations into the allegations of contaminated water and failures by US Marine officials to act on the issue.


From at least 1957 through 1985, Marines and their families at Lejeune's main family housing areas of Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point drank and bathed in water contaminated with toxins at concentrations up to 240-3400 times permitted by safety standards, and at least 850 former residents filed claims for nearly $4 billion from the military. The main chemicals involved were volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning solvent, and trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreaser; however, more than 70 chemicals have been identified as contaminants at Lejeune.[1] The base's wells were shut off in the mid-1980s, after which the water met federal standards, then they were placed back online in violation of the law.[1][2] The Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune is now preparing to supply water to Onslow County, NC. There is a long history of lost documents, poor management, and deceptive lab testings and results. The US government report released in July 2009 stated that the water at the base was tainted between 1950 and 1985, but that the contamination can't be linked to any health problems.[3][4]

In 1980 the base began testing the water for trihalomethanes in response to new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That same year, a laboratory from the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency began finding halogenated hydrocarbons in the water. In March 1981 one of the lab's reports, which was delivered to US Marine officials, stated, "Water is highly contaminated with other chlorinated hydrocarbons (solvents)!"[5]

One theory on the source of the reported contamination is that it was caused by solvents used by an off-base dry cleaning company and by on-base units using chemicals to clean military equipment. In 1982, a private company, Grainger Laboratories, contracted by the USMC to examine the problem provided the base commander with a report showing that the wells supplying water for the base were contaminated with trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene. The contractor deliverd repeated warnings to base officials, including base chemist Elizabeth Betz, that the water was contaminated. A representative from Grainger, Mike Hargett, stated that he went with Betz in July 1982 to inform an unnamed Marine lieutenant colonel who was deputy director of base utilities about the problems with the water. According to Hargett, the Marine was unwilling to discuss Hargett's concerns. In August 1982, a Grainger chemist, Bruce Babson, sent a letter to the base commander, Marine Major General D.J. Fulham, warning him that the bae wells appeared to be poisoned. The water from the contaminated wells, however, continued in use at the base.[5][6]

Grainger continued to warn Marine officials of problems with the water in December 1982, March 1983, and September 1983. In a spring 1983 report to the EPA, Lejeune officials stated that there were no environmental problems at the base. In June 1983, North Carolina's water supply agency asked Lejeune officials for Grainger's lab reports on the water testing. Marine officials declined to provide the reports to the state agency. In December 1983 Lejeune officials scaled back the water testing performed by Grainger.[5]

In July 1984, a different company contracted under the EPA's Superfund review of Lejeune and other sites found benzene in the base's water, along with PCE and TCE. Marine officials shut down one of the contaminated wells in November 1984 and the rest in in early 1985. The Marines notified North Carolina of the contamination in December 1984. At this time the Marines did not disclose that benzene had been discovered in the water and stated to the media that the EPA did not mandate unnaceptable levels of PCE and TCE.[5]

In 2009 the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry discovered that the water had been contaminated with benzene, most likely as a result of 800,000 gallons of fuel that leaked from the base fuel farm during the years in question. The fuel leaks occurred near the main well that serves Hadnot Point, location of enlisted and officer's quarters and the base hospital.[7] For unknown reasons, the presence of benzene in the water had been omitted from the official report that the USMC submitted for federal health review in 1992, in spite of the USMC being aware of the presence of the chemical. The report had been prepared by a contractor, Baker Corp.[8] [edit] Responses and actions [edit] Notifications and responses to initial investigations

In 1999 the USMC began to notify former base residents that they might have consumed contaminated water. The notifications were directed by a federal health study examining possible birth defects among children born at the base during the contamination years.[6]

In 2005 the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated the USMC's handling of the issue, and reported that they found no criminal conduct by USMC officials. In 2007, however, one of the EPA investigators told Congress that he had recommended obstruction of justice charges against some Camp Lejeune officials, but had been overruled by Justice department prosecutors.[6]

In 2007, Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine master sergeant, found a document dated 1981 that described a radioactive dump site near a rifle range at the camp. According to the report, the waste was laced with strontium-90, an isotope known to cause cancer and leukemia.[1] According to Camp Lejeune's installation restoration program manager, base officials learned in 2004 about the 1981 document.[1] Ensminger served in the Marine Corps for 24 and a half years, and lived for part of that time at Camp Lejeune. In 1985 his 9-year-old daughter, Janey, died of cancer.[1]

An advocacy group called The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten was created to inform possible victims of the contamination at Lejeune. The group's website includes an introduction with some basic information about the contamination at Lejeune, including that many health problems various types of cancer, leukemia, miscarriages and birth defects, have been noted in people who drank the contaminated water. According to their site, numerous base housing areas were affected by the contamination, including Tarawa Terrace, Midway Park, Berkeley Manor, Paradise Point, Hadnot Point, Hospital Point, and Watkins Village.[9]

In 2008, the USMC began a more widespread effort to notify former base residents of the issue. An online health registry now contains more than 135,000 names.[6] On April 28, 2009 the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) withdrew a 1997 report that upheld exposure was not a health hazard for adults; ATSDR said it could not stand behind the accuracy of the document.[10] Key documents used to write the report were lost by ATSDR.

In at least two instance the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed that a former servicemember's cancer was caused by his exposure to the contaminated water. Paul Buckley, a USMC veteran who was diagnosed with incurable hematological malignancy, was stationed at Camp Lejeune in the 1980s.[11] In March 2010 the VA decided that Buckley's cancer was directly linked to his ingestion of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and awarded him disability benefits.[12] Also, Jim watters, who was stationed at the Naval Regional Medical center as a Navy Medical Service Corps Officer from 1977 - 1979, was diagnosed in 2007 with Renal Cell Carcinoma(RCC). After several denials from the VA he finally was able to prove his RCC was "as likely as not" caused by his exposure to the highly contaminated water and was awarded 100% disability by the VA in 2009. Jim Watters used information from several U.S. government web sites to show the irrefutable link between exposure to massive amounts of trichloroethylene and RCC. The VA has decided other similar cases in favor of veterans who were exposed to trichloroethylene at Camp Lejeune and other military bases but the numbers are very small (4 -5). Information on these decisions can be found at the web site VA.GOV under the section on Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). Information from these BVA decisions will be helpful to veterans filing claims with the VA for illnesses caused by trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene and benzene. (search the BVA database using the key words trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene or benzene). [edit] Jones suit

On July 6, 2009 Laura Jones filed suit against the US government over the contaminated water at the base. Jones previously lived at the base where her husband, a Marine, was stationed. Jones has lymphoma and now lives in Iowa.[3]

The Navy requested a dismissal of the case, stating that the statute of limitations had expired and that regulations at the time didn't include contaminants such as trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride and benzene. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle, however, rejected the Navy's arguments and ruled that the suit could go forward. Said Boyle, "The Department of the Navy's unwillingness to release information regarding contamination at Camp Lejeune or to provide notice to former residents remains relevant in that such conduct limited the information available to potential clients."[13] [edit] Senate intervention and further study

In October 2009 North Carolina Congressman Brad Miller announced his intention to add a companion bill to Richard Burr's "Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2009" to provide assistance to possible victims of the Lejeune water contamination. The proposed bills would authorize treatment at a US Veterans Administration facility to any veteran or family member who was based at Camp Lejeune during the time the water was contaminated and suffers from adverse health effects.[4] In response to Miller's recommendation that the Navy reassess the issue, the Navy announced in December 2009 that it would review the 1998 study into the water contamination at the base.[14][15]

In February 2010, Senator Richard Burr stated that he would hold the nominations of two top Navy civilian officials- Paul Luis Oostburg Sanz as Navy general counsel and Jackalyne Pfannenstiel as assistant Navy secretary for installations and the environment, until the Navy confirmed that it had funded and initiated programs to study the mortality rate of possible victims of the contamination and a plan to compensate any victims for their injuries.[16] The Navy notified Burr the week of March 1, 2010 that it had released $8.8 million to fund the requested study and Burr allowed the nominations of Sanz and Pfannenstiel to go forward. The study will be conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).[17]

In March 2010 a congressional investigation led by Miller asked the Navy and a contractor, Baker Environmental Inc., for documents related to the contamination issue. Miller also asked for access to the Navy's electronic database of documents related to the contamination, which heretofore had not been made publicly accessible. Said Miller, "We want to know what did [the Navy and the Marine Corps] know about the water, when did they know, and what did they do about it?"[18]

On March 22, 2010 the ATSDR formally complained to the USMC for withholding details of and access to databases containing more than 700,000 electronic documents related to the water contamination. Said ATSDR Deputy Director Thomas Sinks, "It's interesting that there is information that we continue to discover that we need to go through." The Navy/USMC responded by providing access to ATSDR to the databases and denied that there was any intent to withhold documents from the investigation, saying that all of the documents had already been provided in hard copy. Access to the databases has not been provided to two panels advising the US Government on the contamination issue, with the USMC saying that the panel members must use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain access to the documents.[19]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e Thompson, Estes (2007-07-10). "EPA investigating whether radioactive waste was buried at pollution-plagued Camp Lejeune". ABC News, Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  2. ^ Camp Lejeune Water Study - US Marine Corps
  3. ^ a b Washington Times, "Contaminated Water At Base Spurs Suit", July 7, 2009, p. 6.
  4. ^ a b Maurer, Kevin (Associated Press), "Congressman to introduce bill on Lejeune water", Military Times, October 6, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d Barrett, Barbara, "Warnings about Camp Lejeune's tainted water unheeded for years", Stars and Stripes, April 18, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d Zucchino, David, "The Few, The Proud, The Stricken: A rare cancer cluster is found in families who used tainted Camp Lejeune water. Some fault Marine officials." Los Angeles Times, August 26, 2009, p. 10.
  7. ^ Barrett, Barbara, "Marine Base's Ex-Residents, Many Ill, Only Now Learning Of Toxic Water", Raleigh News & Observer, February 14, 2010.
  8. ^ Maurer, Kevin, (Associated Press), "Report on Marines’ water omitted cancer chemical", Stars and Stripes, February 18, 2010.
  9. ^ The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten. 2008-02-04. Access date 2008-02-06
 10. ^
 11. ^ Sawyer, Diane, and Steve Osunsami, "Toxic Water", ABC World News, March 19, 2010.
 12. ^ Jontz, Sandra, "VA Ruling On Former Marine's Illness May Affect Thousands", Stars and Stripes, March 27, 2010.
 13. ^ Barrett, Barbara, "Judge: Lejeune Suit Can Proceed", Raleigh News & Observer, February 25, 2010.
 14. ^ Maurer, Kevin, "Navy to pay for review of Lejeune water study", Military Times, December 4, 2009.
 15. ^ Maurer, Kevin, "Rep. wants fed probe of Lejeune water reports" Military Times, February 18, 2010.
 16. ^ Maze, Rick, "Navy nominations held up by Lejeune studies", Military Times, February 22, 2010.
 17. ^ Barrett, Barbara, "Navy Antes Up For Lejeune Study", Raleigh News & Observer, March 3, 2010.
 18. ^ Barrett, Barbara, "Miller Sets Deadline To Get The Facts On Lejeune Water Pollution", Raleigh News & Observer, March 10, 2010.
 19. ^ Levesque, William R., "Marines Keeping Files Secret?", St. Petersburg Times, March 30, 2010, p. 1.

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