For thirty years, from 1957 to 1987, chemicals flowed freely into the water supply used by Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina.
There were no water-quality regulation standards in place back then. In fact, it was not until 1981 when military officials first tested the water supply and discovered that two out of eight water treatment systems on the base were contaminated with a metal degreaser, trichloroethylene (TCE); a dry cleaning solvent, tetrachloroethylene (PCE); benzene, a highly flammable fuel component; and other carbon-based chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). However, the toxic wells that supplied the Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace water systems were not closed down until 1987 – five years after the discovery.
These chemicals are now listed as hazardous cancer-causing carcinogens by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are all linked to cancers of the liver, kidney, lung, breast, and to cause leukemia.
Slow Reaction to Toxic Water Supply
However, ten years after the shutdown, in 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, did not recognize TCE and PCE as carcinogens, and failed to include benzene, which was a known carcinogen at that time, into their research of the water supply at Camp Lejeune. They issued a report concluding that no direct harm to Marines and their families occurred because of exposure to the contaminated water supply.
More Marines, Family Members, Get Sick
Even so, there were reports from Marine veterans of illness and severe cancers in themselves and in their families. Up to a million people over the 30-year period may have been exposed to the contaminated water. It took the U.S. Marine Corps 24 years to make it known to them about the potential hazards of the water supply to their health. Congress mandated them to notify veteran personnel in 2008.
Also, the ATSDR report was withdrawn in 2009 because it did not take the effects of benzene into consideration. ATSDR is researching again whether illnesses in service men and women and their families could be linked to exposure to the contaminated water supply. The results are expected to be finalized in 2011.
Congressional Sub-Committee Takes Action
A sub-committee of the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee is also probing for answers. It is chaired by Brad Miller (D-NC), who introduced a bill to Congress in February, 2010 named after Janey Ensminger, who was exposed prenatally to Camp Lejeune water. Janey died in 1985 of childhood leukemia at the age of nine. The Janey Ensminger Act would require the Veterans Administration (VA) to provide health care services to veterans and their families who have illnesses caused by their exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Currently, family members are not eligible to apply for VA disability benefits.
The sub-committee is working to establish a clear connection to cancers and illnesses in veterans and their families from exposure to carcinogenic toxins in the Camp Lejeune water.
We expect their findings and the new ATSDR report will change the way the VA looks at disability claims from veterans stationed at Camp Lejeune at that time. So far the VA is taking them on a case-by-case basis.
The Alpha Connection – Why We Care
How many Marine veterans are now experiencing severe health conditions and don’t know about the service connection to Camp Lejeune?
This is why we ask Marine veterans if they were stationed there, when, and for how long. Even if they lived there for six months, that was a long enough period to later experience severe, and long-term, side effects.
At Alpha, we are in a position to quickly identify Camp Lejeune veterans and establish if their health condition was caused to their exposure to the toxic water.
As the sub-committee headed by Chairman Miller continues its investigation – a hearing was held this past September – we will closely watch its progress.
The Alpha team is hoping for a positive resolution for these Marines who never expected they were putting themselves, and their families, in harm’s way while on American soil.
Note: All representation coordinated by Alpha is provided by our employees, the Advocates, who are accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). No private organization that trains and employs accredited agents has been legally recognized by the VA for the purposes of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims. This work must be done by the Advocates themselves and not organizations.