Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Investigation – What’s the Navy Hiding?
TCE (trichloroethylene), found in Camp Lejeune’s water supply for decades, has been officially recognized as causing cancer, and revelations of benzene and other toxic contaminants have further deepened fears among former residents. Families who lived at the site of the nation’s largest drinking water contamination scandal are demanding a rapid and thorough investigation. Jerry Ensminger, whose 9 year old daughter, Janie, died of a rare leukemia, has been leading the fight for many years, including testimony before Congressional committees.
A key part of the investigation will be reconstruction of where in the Marine base’s water system the contamination was found, and how high the levels were. Completely mapping the water system from the 1950s through the present is critical to determing who could have been exposed to toxic contamination that could be responsible for the increased levels of disease, including male breast cancer and childhood leukemia. Yet the Navy now claims that the water system information must be withheld for reasons of national security, and is trying to keep it out of a health report due soon!
Ensminger and other Marine families are fighting for health care and full accountability for the base’s failure to close contaminated wells despite years of warnings. They say this may be one more ploy by the Navy to cover up its responsibility and stall justice for about one million former residents at the base
who may be victims of the poisoned water.
Eastern, Western NC Communities Struggle with TCE Contamination
At both ends of North Carolina, the reality of long term trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination in groundwater hits close to home. Chronic exposure to TCE (an industrial degreaser) can cause liver and kidney damage, weakened immune system function, and impaired development. Although presently listed as a “probable” human carcinogen by ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), this classification will likely change soon based on increasing evidence that TCE exposure can cause certain cancers. Earlier this year, CWFNC was one of over forty organizations, individuals, and officials who signed a letter asking EPA to tighten federal regulations on TCE.
In south Asheville, community advocates near the former CTS manufacturing site continue to stress the need for safe drinking water and clean up of TCE-tainted groundwater. However, slow moving studies and sporadic attention from regulators have stalled progress. A Health Assessment by the NC Division of Public Health recognized the presence of toxins, but failed to link them to serious health risks. The community argues that the NC Cancer Registry used in the study is incomplete. Meanwhile, an EPA report concluded that CTS Corporation, whose use and on-site disposal of TCE through the 1980s was widely documented, was not necessarily the source of TCE in local wells. Residents fear these studies, part of EPA’s consideration of listing the site on the Superfund National Priority List, could also be an attempt by CTS to deflect blame and avoid high cleanup costs.
Key water supply wells at Camp Lejeune, near Jacksonville, served tens of thousands of service personnel and civilians, and were known by officials to be contaminated with TCE for years before finally being shut down. Last year’s revelation that benzene (a known carcinogen) was among contaminants in the wells brought a new wave of media attention and forced ATSDR to retract a health study that activists said didn’t adequately characterize the health risks.
In February, the Navy agreed to fund a new assessment which could link TCE, benzene and other hazards to health problems reported by marines and their families. High estimates indicate that as many as one million Marines and their families, now scattered around the world, could have been harmed by groundwater exposure at the base over time.
Activists with “The Few, the Proud, the Forgotten” are working to ensure that past residents are notified of their risk, and receive needed health care. Representative Brad Miller has introduced ‘The Janey Ensminger Act,” legislation which would provide health care to affected veterans and their families. The bill is named for group leader Jerry Ensminger’s daughter Janey, who was exposed in utero to the contaminated water and died of childhood leukemia at age nine. Senators Hagan and Burr have introduced similar legislation in the Senate.