Washington, DC. – A new report released today by federal health officials shows that the decades-long case of drinking water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina is one of the worst on record.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that tap water supplied to base housing contained toxic chemicals and known carcinogens, including benzene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE) at unprecedented levels that significantly exceeded legal limits.
“We knew the evidence was damning – now it’s historic,” said environmental activist Erin Brockovich. “Policymakers need to wake up and realize that Camp Lejeune is just one of the many tragedies playing out in our communities across the country.”
“The missing pieces are finally coming together,” said Alex Rindler policy associate at the Environmental Working Group. “With this information, Camp Lejeune is one step closer to being recognized by the government as a disease cluster.”
Veterans and their families have charged that pollution at Camp Lejeune is linked to at least 84 cases of male breast cancer and thousands more rare cancers, leukemia, birth defects and other serious illnesses.
Marine Corps officials have denied wrongdoing, contending there is insufficient “reliable scientific evidence” to link the contamination to illnesses suffered by former base residents and their families.
The federal toxic substance agency’s report comes down strongly on the side of the Lejeune veterans.
The same agency has previously estimated that as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to carcinogens and toxic chemicals as they leached from leaky fuel storage tanks and on-base disposal sites into tap water. These earlier estimates were based on information that the contamination began in 1953 and continued into 1987. But in the new report, the agency says the contamination may have started as early as 1948. If that is the case, the number of people exposed to toxic chemicals in the water could increase substantially.
Last August, President Obama signed into law the Janey Ensminger Act, which offers affected veterans and family members extended health care and medical services for disorders that may have been caused by exposure to toxic chemicals in Lejeune drinking water. Retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey died of leukemia in 1985, at the age of 9, led the fight for the act’s passage, along with Mike Partain, a breast cancer survivor who was born on the base in 1968, when his father, a Marine Corps officer, was stationed there. Their efforts to uncover the contamination inspired an award-winning film,Semper Fi: Always Faithful, and prompted Congress to pass legislation to assure that former Lejeune residents obtain needed care.
Information provided by: Environmental Working Group