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Jan-20-2009 10:05printcomments

Veterans Use Internet to Wage Battle

The Department of Defense is the biggest owner of EPA Superfund sites with 133 at last count. Marine veterans and dependents use websites and internet to spread the word of contaminants to others. Government actions with few exceptions have been to ignore concerns or “pass the buck” to others. Lejeune website recommends alternative to government Public Health Assessments.

Janey, Camp Lejeune Marine Jerry Ensminger’s daughter
Janey, Camp Lejeune Marine Jerry Ensminger’s daughter
Photos of Jerry and Janey provided to Salem-News.com by Jerry Ensminger's family.

(SOMERDALE, N.J.) - One of the things that parents most fear is the death of a child. For most of us, this is only a vicarious experience. We hear or read about an accidental death or even murder of someone’s child, sympathize, maybe offer a prayer, then go on with our lives. We haven’t had to endure the pain.

Like other parents at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine with over 24 years of service with much of that time spent at Camp Lejeune, doesn’t have to read or hear someone’s story about the tragic death of their child; he’s been there.

Janey, Ensminger’s daughter, was conceived while the family lived at one of the Lejeune base family housing units that were affected by trichloroethylene (TCE) contaminated drinking water. As told by Jerry: “Janey was born seemingly normal, that is until she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) at the age of six.

Ensminger said he "didn’t cry once" in front of his daughter through all her treatments, until her death at age 9 on Sept. 24, 1985, at Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center. But telling Janey’s story now makes him sob as if her death happened yesterday. (see: tftptf.com/CLW_Docs/JerryEnsmingerStory.pdf)

Jerry’s family situation and many others at Camp Lejeune should resonant with anyone who read the book or saw the film: “A Civil Affair.” Children in Woburn, MA, were tragically struck with ALL traced to TCE contaminated water from two wells. For a few dollars, you can rent the film (disc not available locally in NJ). You won’t be sorry.

Camp Lejeune and Woburn, MA, are not isolated cases. The Air Force in 2003 estimated there were over 1,400 military sites contaminated with TCE. TCE was also widely used in industry as an excellent metal cleaner for decades. There are about 5,000 new cases of ALL in the United States each year. There may be other causes of ALL. It appears most often in children younger than age 15. According to the American Cancer Society, ALL starts in the bone marrow and “may spread to other places.” The cause of ALL is unknown, but the American Cancer Society has identified a number of risk factors, including chemical exposure to benzene and other chemicals. (see: leukemia-lymphoma.org/all_page.adp?item_id=7049)

The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten

Together with several other Marine veterans and dependents of Camp Lejeune, Jerry Ensminger started an internet web site, “The Few, the Proud, The Forgotten.” “The mission of this website is to help ensure the rights of the residents, Marines/Naval personnel, dependent family members and civilians who resided in military base housing aboard Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that were exposed to long term chemical release of volatile organic compounds into the drinking water of their homes from 1957 until 1987.” (see: tftptf.com/5801.html).

Jerry is a Marine's Marine; losing his daughter sent him on
a mission to learn the truth and it has been a long and difficult
journey for a man who dedicated his life to his country.

The water provided Lejeune’s water distribution systems was contaminated with various chemicals, including the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) known as PCE (Tetrachloroethylene aka Perchloroethylene), TCE (Trichloroethylene), DCE (Dichloroethylene), Vinyl Chloride and BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene).These chemicals are either known or suspected human carcinogens.

According to the website: “Many Marines, Sailors, their families and civilian employees have been affected by the contamination in various ways including, but not limited to: liver cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, non Hodgkins lymphoma, liver disease, miscarriages, and birth defects (cleft palate, heart defects, Choanal atresia, neural tube defects, low birth weight, and small for gestational age).”

In 1987 Camp Lejeune was recommended for listing as a Superfund site on the National Priorities List (NPL) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Camp Lejeune was officially listed as a Superfund site in 1989.” (see: tftptf.com/)

This website features personal stories of those exposed to Lejeune contaminants. Andrew Zelenski’s story is typical: “I was stationed at Camp Lejeune from 1979-1982. My wife, myself and our children lived in TT2 base housing. We conceived a daughter while there and she later died of intestinal pneuminitis; she lived only 5 weeks. We conceived a second daughter; she lived only 7 minutes. She died of anecephaly. The hospital accused me and my wife of drug abuse. The stress of losing two daughters so close together was too much for us to handle and soon after we divorced and I tried to commit suicide because I could not handle the loss. When I was discharged from the Marine Corps upon my exit physical they told me that I needed to seek medical attention for the excess protein in my urine. Since then, I have progressed from just proteinuria of the kidneys to Focal Segmental Glomerschlerosis.” (see: tftptf.com/CLW_Docs/AndrewZelenskiStory.pdf)

Ensminger, in a January 2009 Newsletter sent to registered members of the website, wrote a lengthy criticism of the Navy, the Marine Corps and ATSDR representatives related to the conduct of the Public Health Assessment of Camp Lejeune.

Ensminger gives credit to ATSDR for “the stance they took on fetal exposures. However, he criticized the agency for “minimizing” the effects of exposure to the adult population of Marines, Sailors, dependents, and civilian workers.

According to Ensminger, the 1997 Public Health Assessment contained multiple errors and was seriously flawed due to the following: (1) the Marine Corps/Navy engaged in “a campaign to stall, delay, confuse, and intimate staff from ATSDR; the final PHA was full of “inaccuracies and assumptions” favoring the government’s position; (3) ATSDR personnel “comprised their independence” by accepting VIP quarters and by being “fed at the Camp Lejeune officers club during each and every visit made to CLNC; (4) exposure to the adult population of Marines, Sailors, dependents, and civilian workers was “minimized to give these populations a false sense of security; and (5) the Marine Corps/Navy provided ATSDR with “erroneous water system data (multiple times) which is still reflected in this document [the 1997 PHA].” Copies of the newsletter can be obtained from the website at tftptf.com/.

The STAND

Another group of veterans and dependents of Camp Lejeune was formed by Terry Dyer and Karen Strand, sisters who lived at Tarawa Terrace, Camp Lejeune, for 15 years. Both women suffer from the health effects of TCE and other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The two sisters with help and advice from attorney Jan Schlichtmann (played by John Trovolta in “A Civil Affair”) established an internet website “The STAND” (see: watersurvivors.com/default.asp) The stated mission of THE STAND is: “To receive Justice for civilian, military and military dependent peace-keepers that were wounded as a result of toxic chemical poisoning at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.”

Karen Strand story is told by Justin Scheck, editor of the Mountain View Voice, Mountain View, CA: “Karen Strand was six in 1958 when her family moved into a house on the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina. It wasn't until 2000 that she made the connection between her ongoing health problems -- a bleeding ulcer at 19, thyroid and parathyroid problems, depression, and cysts and tumors that necessitated a complete hysterectomy -- and the chemical-smelling water she drank and bathed in at the base for 13 years.”

“Strand and her two sisters, who have also had hysterectomies, assumed they were the victims of bad luck until three years ago, when they saw a CNN show in which representatives of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry asked women who carried pregnancies at Camp Lejeune to come forward for a study on the health of their children. Until 1985, the ATSDR officials said, Camp Lejeune residents drank water laced with high levels of the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), used in military operations. TCE is known to cause cancer, autoimmune disorders, birth defects, and nervous-system problems.” (see: grist.org/news/maindish/2003/07/03/base/)

Former MCAS El Toro

Taking a clue from the two Lejeune websites, I started a blog site (http://www.mwsg37.com/) in January 2008 is to spread the work of former MCAS El Toro’s contamination to other Marines and dependents stationed at the base. I suffered from prostate tumors in my 30s. I’m a non-smoker and drinker but in December 2005, I was operated on for stage 2/3 bladder cancer followed by a round of chemotherapy. There is no history of bladder cancer in my family. My urologist discussed this aggressive cancer with me, reviewed my service records, and the history of contamination at El Toro, concluding that my cancer was probably related to my service at the base. Emails from other Marines and dependents at El Toro indicate a link between their illnesses and TCE exposure at the base.

Erin (last name withheld) wrote that: “My dad was a US Marine during the Vietnam War. He was stationed, among other places, at El Toro and Camp Lejeune. I've learned of the TCE contamination at both bases and know for sure that he was in the specific area that was contaminated at El Toro, and am looking into where he was at Lejeune. This is relevant to the reason I am writing because my dad is terminally ill with glioblastoma, a rare cancer that has been linked to TCE exposure. I believe that it is directly a result of his time in the military.” Erin later wrote that her dad died of glioblastoma, a primary brain tumor and one of the most malignant and difficult brain tumors to treat. It is also a very rare type of tumor. According to the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States, http://www.cbtrus.org/, GBM's strike an average of 2.96 people per 100,000 - less than .003 percent - every year.

Bill (last name withheld), a retired El Toro Marine, disagreed with the Navy and EPA date that TCE was discontinued at El Toro: “You say that these chemicals were only used until the mid 1970's but I know for a fact that they were used up until the early 1990's. How do I know because we used them OFTEN. As you said they were a degreaser and an outstanding one at that. They were also used for hydraulic contamination testing and keeping hydraulic components and equipment clean. When I was with VMA(AW)-121 and MALS-11 we would use the stuff daily (1-5 gallons). I think the hangers that you are referring to are the KC-130 hangers on the west end of the base. I do know of a Marine that spent most of his career in that hanger and died of cancer soon after retiring (months), the VA/USMC claimed not military related. We took up a big collection in the squadron/KC-130 community to help his family pay for medical bills.” (see: mwsg37.com/)


According to EPA, contaminants of concern (COC) “are the chemical substances found at the site that the EPA has determined pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment. These are the substances that are addressed by cleanup actions at the site. Identifying COCs is a process where the EPA identifies people and ecological resources that could be exposed to contamination found at the site, determines the amount and type of contaminants present, and identifies the possible negative human health or ecological effects that could result from contact with the contaminants.”

Both the groundwater and soil at El Toro are contaminated with TCE/PCE and other chemicals. A major difference between El Toro and Lejeune is that all government agencies maintain that the contamination in the groundwater did not extent to the base wells so the drinking water was not affected. However, the reported contamination of one on-base well and the possible contamination of others raises concerns about the well water at El Toro. ATSDR’s position was that it “is not possible to determine if base-related contaminants were present in the on-base drinking water system prior to 1969.”

El Toro Marines and civilian workers were told by ATSDR this month that occupational exposure was not within their authority. At former MCAS El Toro, another Marine Corps base where exposure to TCE/PCE is a possibility, ATSDR told Marines, Sailors and dependents earlier this month that their authority “does not include evaluation of the potential exposure workers may have experienced to the chemicals used in their occupational environment.” Instead, ATSDR recommended that “occupational concerns” be addressed to CDR Melissa Mohon of the Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center, Occupation Health Department. (see: salem-news.com/articles/january182009/astdr_ro_1-18-09.php)

Alternative to ATSDR

Ensminger concluded that contracting out ATSDR to “future Public Health Assessments” made good sense: “The ATSDR has been in existence for nearly a quarter of a century. They rarely (if ever) had a conclusive finding in any of their work…perhaps our Federal government would be better served if they did away with ATSDR. Take the money that is apparently being wasted on the upkeep of an ineffective agency and contract future Public Health Assessments and studies to university science/medical departments. I truly believe that if this were to happen, the money that our government would provide to these universities would be utilized to protect public health instead of protecting the interests of polluters!” No doubt there is a chorus of citizens across the country who would resoundingly agree.

Here is a complete list of the articles that have been generated on the contamination of the former Marine Base at El Toro and at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina:

Follow this link to all of our stories about the Marine Corps and TCE

Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at mwsg37.com. This subject is where Bob intersected with Salem-News.com. Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne. You can email Bob O’Dowd, Salem-News.com Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address: consults03@comcast.net




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Andrea with www.tftptf.com January 20, 2009 12:44 pm (Pacific time)

Bob, you did an amazing job on this article as always. Thank you for making sure that people are still reading about the tragedies that occurred at Lejeune and El Toro.


Tim King January 20, 2009 11:15 am (Pacific time)

Jerry and Janey's story is one of the saddest I have ever known, but also one of the most inspirational. Andy Zelenski was my sergeant at El Toro and we went many places and did many things together as Marines. His family's story is also a serious heartbreaker. I am so glad Robert is keeping this subject alive in his articles and the strength among those of us who have taken up this cause is gaining both size and momentum. Semper Fi.

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