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Former Marine Testifies Over Deadly Contaminated Water at Camp LejeuneTim King Salem-News.com
Former Marine and other witnesses tell subcommittee that communities were left vulnerable to toxic chemicals.
(SALEM, Ore.) - It is hard to find a sadder story or a more determined Marine than Jerome M. Ensminger of Richlands, North Carolina. He lost his daughter Janey to cancer after a long struggle in the 1980's. At the time they could not figure out what caused it.
A decade later Jerry, who never went a day without thinking of Janey, was watching the evening news and learned that the Marine Corps and Navy had been caught up in a scandal over TCE (Trichloroethylene) poisoning at Camp Lejeune. It was a problem that in the end, would be too large to sweep under the rug, even though the government has tried. TCE is a degreasing agent that was used to clean military jet fighters and for many other purposes.
While the government blames the problems on PCE (Perchloroethylene) contamination from an off base dry cleaner, it does little to change the fact that the Marines had been allowing human beings to drink highly toxic water for generations fully aware that it was happening through different sources. .as really surprised by some of the reactions." But Jerry pushed on and was not going to slow down over the disapproval of other Marines, even if some were his oldest friends.
Now Jerry is fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the facts are at least known, and the government's record keeping he says, leaves much to be desired. The IRIS system he is fighting to save is the only database that can help those suffering today and those whose illnesses are yet to be detected.
IRIS, the Integrated Risk Information System, is where the EPA maintains assessments of the health-impact of chemicals. Federal agencies, state and local authorities, private companies, and individuals rely on IRIS to plan a response when chemicals are found in air, water, or soil. IRIS offers guidance on what chemicals are toxic, and at what levels. The IRIS Website sees approximately 20,000 visitors per year.
Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) said, "When state and local authorities get poor information, or no information, from IRIS regarding the health hazards of a particular pollutant, their response to pollution in a community is likely to be confused and confusing,"
The Subcommittee is examining whether the White House Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) continued efforts to delay assessments of the health risks posed by toxic chemicals is contributing to illness and premature death for thousands of Americans.
His words toward the administration are biting and harsh; they contain some of the anger of Ensminger and others we have reported about recently at Salem-News.com.
"The White House has effectively blocked the EPA from posting new health assessments of hazardous chemicals by prolonging the assessments because of inevitable uncertainties about the interaction of chemicals and human health," said Miller.
Today's hearing illustrated the connection between the experiences of individuals and communities with trichloroethylene (TCE) pollution issues and the IRIS database. Ensminger, who attained the rank of Master Sergeant during his time in the Corps, testified about watching his young daughter suffer and succumb to leukemia; she was conceived while the family was stationed at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, which had very high levels of TCE in its drinking water.
Other experts illustrated how state and local governments rely on IRIS when they try to decide what to do when chemical pollution is identified.
TCE has been widely used since the 1920s as a degreaser. Discovery of its toxic properties eliminated its use as an analgesic in the 1930s and by the 1970s evidence in animal experiments indicated it might cause cancer.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that EPA will not complete their TCE assessment until 2010—twenty one years after the original start date. Yesterday Chairman Miller sent a letter to the White House asking for all documents related to the long-delayed assessment of TCE.
"Completion of an IRIS assessment is just the first step in the process protecting people from dangerous exposures to toxic chemicals," said Miller. "People will have been exposed to a known toxic substance for decades, for a generation, while the government engages in study after study. Have we become so obsessed with getting the science right that we have lost sight of our real goal – protecting public health? Or is getting the science right a pretext for obstruction?"
A backlog of assessments has been made worse by a new review process that the EPA and OMB revealed on April 10th, 2008. The GAO testified at the first hearing on IRIS last month that the new process provides for even more secrecy and delay, with more opportunity for polluters to weigh on the draft assessment without public input or knowledge.
Testimony of Jerome M. Ensminger of Richlands, North Carolina:
Good morning, my name is Jerry Ensminger and I served my country faithfully for more than 24 years in the United States Marine Corps. I would like to thank the chairman, the committee members and their staffs for all of the hard work that went into making these hearings possible. I must say that since 3 January 2007, I have been heartened and inspired by the over-sight activities of this congress. You have been taking on the important issues that matter to the majority of our citizens, not just the issues that affect/benefit special interest groups and big business!
I am appearing here today as a tragic example of the consequences of a system that ignores our environment and the inevitable health effects that result from it. Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is quite possibly one of, if not the worst drinking water contamination incidents in modern world history! The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) estimates that between 750,000 and 1,000,000 people were potentially exposed to horrendous levels of toxins through their drinking water while stationed at Camp Lejeune.
My daughter Janey was conceived while her mother and I lived in one of the base family housing areas where the drinking water was affected by the contamination at the base. Just like our other children, Janey was born seemingly normal, that is until she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphosytic Leukemia (A.L.L.) at the age of six. In 1997, the ATSDR proposed a childhood leukemia/non-Hodgkins lymphoma study for Camp Lejeune children who had been exposed to Volatile Organic Chemicals (V.O.C.‘s, cleaning solvents!) in utero while their parents lived at the base between the years of 1968-1985. (Note: The start date of this study was based upon the beginning date for the computerization of birth records in North Carolina, not on potential exposure.) The protocol/proposal for this study outlined that that the expected occurrences of the targeted illnesses in a cohort of 10,000-12,000 births for that time period would be 7.2 cases. The ATSDR has confirmed 14 cases of leukemia and 2 cases of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, this is more than a 100% increase in the incidence of these childhood cancers! Mr. Chairman, let me layout some of the facts and figures relating to the Camp Lejeune water contamination situation. The documented levels of contaminates in the finished drinking water (at the tap) were some 280 times higher than what is currently considered safe for these very same chemicals! The Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery issued strict regulations (BUMED INST 6240.3B) in 1963 governing potable water distribution systems on Naval Shore Facilities. Included in these regulations were pre-emptive measures to ensure that existing and future water supplies were not contaminated by extraneous sources. The Camp Lejeune, Tarawa Terrace family housing area water supply wells were located on the virtual property line, down gradient, and directly across the street from multiple potential civilian contamination sources! (Gasoline stations, auto repair facilities, dry cleaning establishments, and known septic systems)
In 1971, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command from Norfolk, Va. came to Camp Lejeune and selected multiple sites for the construction of new drinking water supply wells for the base. One of these new wells was HP-651 which began producing raw water for the Camp Lejeune, Hadnot Point water distribution plant in January of 1972. The site which had been selected by the Navy engineers for the placement of HP-651 was at the back corner of the base disposal yard! (junk yard!) The disposal yard had been in operation for decades by the time this site was selected for a drinking water supply well.
In February 1985, HP-651 tested positive for some 26,000 ppb of Volatile Organic Chemicals! There is little doubt that this water supply well was contaminated immediately upon, or very shortly after its construction! (Note: The ATSDR’s on going water modeling for the Camp Lejeune , Hadnot Point and Holcomb Blvd. water systems will verify this fact once it is completed.) The irony of all this is the fact that many of the human exposures that took place at Camp Lejeune would have been avoided had Navy and Marine Corps officials followed their own regulations!
The most audacious and blasphemous truth to this entire water contamination incident at Camp Lejeune is the fact that Navy and Marine Corps officials knew of the existence of this contamination in the drinking water for 5 years before they took any action to rectify the problem! (Navy and Marine Corps officials were knowingly poisoning their own people!)
That is correct, all of this was known and taking place behind the scenes at the very same time that my daughter Janey was suffering through her fight with leukemia and they said absolutely nothing! Not only did they say nothing, they went as far as to return 2 of the 3 known contaminated wells for the Tarawa Terrace housing area back on-line for 2 more years! They had the option of tapping into the local community water lines which were located just a few feet from the property line. Instead, Navy and Marine Corps officials opted against this idea because they didn’t want to owe any reciprocating favors to the local community government!
Since the ATSDR entered the gates of Camp Lejeune to execute their congressionally mandated mission, representatives of the Department of the Navy (DoN) have done all they could to obstruct their efforts. I can make this statement with confidence because I possess the documentation to back it up! As recently as the week before last, DoD and DoN officials were threatening to thwart the ATSDR’s initiatives at Camp Lejeune by withholding funding!
Jerome M. Ensminger
It is a known fact that the United States Department of Defense is our nation’s largest polluter. It is beyond my comprehension why an entity with that type of reputation and who has a vested interest in seeing little to no environmental over-sight would be included in the scientific process. Not only are they (DoD) obstructing science, they are also jeopardizing the public health for millions of people all around the world.
It is quite obvious by their activities to thwart science that they have something to fear. What they fear is their past negligence and the liability that comes along with it! There is little wonder why the DoD has been seeking immunities from environmental regulations for the last 7 years and yet this administration and past congress’ have allowed their (DoD’s) tentacles to infiltrate the realm of science. We all need to allow science to speak for itself and let the chips fall where they may!
Below are the stories we have published on this important, ongoing story that affects my family also, as I am a former Marine stationed at the now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station which also has a large number of TCE related cases. For more on that, visit: MWSG37.com.
This is a recent article by Tim King about the Navy's reluctance to pay a half million dollar payment to researchers who are exploring the health problems related to TCE at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: Federal Agency Money Bickering Could Spell Doom for Sick Marines
This is the original article by Salem-News.com's Dr. Phil Leveque who as a Toxicologist, testified as an expert in one of the first TCE caes ever in a U.S. court: Marine Death Camp: Camp Lejeune Trichlorethylene - the Culprit
This is the story written by Tim King on the TCE contamination at El Toro: El Toro Marines Should be Aware of Possible Contaminant Based Health Hazards
Other important related sites:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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