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Jul-20-2012 13:49printcomments

Camp Lejeune Health Care Huge Step Forward

Congressional compromise recognizes Marine Corps’ responsibility for contaminated water wells and health effects of toxic exposure.

Hadnot Point at Camp Lejeune
Hadnot Point at Camp Lejeune during the mid 1970's.
Photo provided by Nancy Brown

(SALEM) - The Senate passed Honoring America’s Veteran’s and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. It’s a huge step forward but hold off on breaking out the champagne.

This bill is a compromise and like all compromises, not everyone will be satisfied with what they see. It will be passed into law. DOD can’t be happy with the bill.

Too many military installations are contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), a deadly carcinogen. Will other veterans press Congress for health care compensation for exposures to TCE?

Twenty-five years after the contaminated wells were shut down, the Senate approved health care for Camp Lejeune veterans and their dependents. The House is expected to vote their approval shortly.

Retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger took the point in pushing Congress to pass this legislation. Whether you agree with him or not, nothing would have been done by Congress without his and other veterans’ and dependents’ testimonies for health care legislation.

It’s painfully obvious that the Marine Corps wanted nothing to do with health care for Camp Lejeune veterans and their dependents. The documentation on the contaminated wells was not destroyed or ‘lost’ and the testimonies from Lejeune veterans, dependents, and scientists supported the toxicity of the wells and their adverse health effects. The Corps

In the end, Congress did the right thing, despite the public relations response from the Corps to a public health tragedy.

The House vote is expected on July 31st, according to Jerry Ensminger. The President should sign this bill into law without hesitation.

Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps’ motto, was tarnished by the Corps refusal to support its veterans and their dependents; many of them sick with deadly cancers. How many died from lack of health care?

This bill is a ‘weak sister’ in comparison to the Agent Orange presumption disability law. Unlike Agent Orange presumptive disability, there is no provision for compensation to veterans and the VA is a ‘payer of last resort’ for dependents who drank, showered, and cooked with the contaminated well water and suffered miscarriages, cancers, and died like their Marine husbands and fathers.

What happens to the tort claims filed by hundreds of Lejeune dependents and civilian employees gathering dust in the Navy’s JAG office? Family members of veterans have filed tort claims for $33.8 billion in damages. To our knowledge not one dime has been paid by DOD. Of course, a claimant can file a suite in District court, but that requires legal counsel and expensive legal fees. Despite the inherent obstacles in suing the federal government, several suites have been filed but no winners. Will the Navy trash the tort claims for Lejeune? There’s nothing in this bill on the tort claims. That’s where the real money is.

The unanswered question will be the implementation of the law by the VA. Will a hostile VA play hard ball with veterans and their dependents? Looking for occupational exposures after military service to exclude health care coverage? No comments from the VA, Marine Corps or Navy on the bill in the press.

Did DOD push the Corps to resist accepting responsibility for the contaminated wells? With 130 military installations on the NPL, DOD is by far the biggest environmental polluter in the country. And, TCE is on many of these installations.

TCE Contamination at MCAS El Toro

MCAS El Toro, California, the Marine Corps premier jet fighter base until closed in July 1999, is one of the installations contaminated with TCE. Unlike Camp Lejeune, much of the documentation on El Toro’s wells is lost. The TCE cut a path right through the base wells, but the Navy’s response is they purchased municipal water in 1951 and the wells were abandoned. Not so fast.

The evidence shows that the initial purchase of softened municipal water from The Metropolitan Water District was not enough to allow the Marine Corps to abandon wells that were then less than 10 years old. It may have been done to reduce the levels of corrosive salts in the aquifer by blending the well water with softened municipal water. The government contract file was destroyed years ago so there’s nothing supporting the rational for purchasing municipal water in water scarce Southern California.

A follow-on municipal water services contract with the Irvine Ranch Water District in 1969 provided enough water for the Corps to walk away from the base wells. But, a 1975 engineering drawing showed the water distribution system connected to base wells. No other details were available and part of the engineering drawing is redacted. Forget about going to Congress with this news.

The reality is that over 40 years of missing water distribution engineering drawings at El Toro make it almost impossible to determine when the wells were abandoned. The original well construction drawings showing the locations of the well screen intervals—the point that water and contaminants enter water well are lost. By 1986, the existing water distribution engineering drawings show only one agricultural well in production.

In 1998, a Navy engineer asked a consulting engineer to locate the well screen before sealing the well with concrete. The video taken by the contractor showed that more than 40 feet of the well screen was opened in the contaminated aquifer. All of the wells in the TCE plume were constructed during WW II. Did all of the base wells follow the same construction pattern with some portion of their well screens in the contaminated aquifer? No more inspections were done to locate well screens.

All of the base wells were sealed in concrete.

TCE Contamination at Other Installations

The environmental contamination of TCE in the military and many communities in the country is huge, threatening local water supplies.

The Air Force admitted that 1,400 sites military sites were contaminated with TCE in 2003. Ralph Vartabedian of The LA Times covered the story in a March 29, 2006 news series, “How Environmentalists Lost the Battle Over TCE”. Vartabedian reported that:

An internal Air Force report issued in 2003 warned that the Pentagon alone has 1,400 sites contaminated with TCE.

Among those, at least 46 have involved large-scale contamination or significant exposure to humans at military bases, according to a list compiled by the Natural Resources New Service, an environmental group based in Washington.

The Air Force was convinced that the EPA would toughen its allowable limit of TCE in drinking water of 5 parts per billion by at least fivefold. The service was already spending $5 billion a year to clean up TCE at its bases and tougher standards would drive that up by another $1.5 billion, according to an Air Force document. Some outside experts said that estimate was probably low.

After the EPA issued the draft assessment, the Pentagon, Energy Department and NASA appealed their case directly to the White House. TCE has also contaminated 23 sites in the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons complex — including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, and NASA centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

The agencies argued that the EPA had produced junk science, its assumptions were badly flawed and that evidence exonerating TCE was ignored. They argued that the EPA could not be trusted to move ahead on its own and that top leaders in the agency did not have control of their own bureaucracy.

Our hearts and prayers are with our Lejeune Marine brothers and their dependents.

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 This subject is where Bob intersected with 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, Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address:

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