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Jun-17-2009 20:47printcomments

Scientists Call Foul on NRC Report Cutting Government Loose of Responsibility for Toxic Marine Bases

"Since the NRC report is at such variance with the recommendations of other water modeling and epidemiologic experts, we believe it should not stand as the final word"

The National Research Council building
The National Research Council building

(CAMP LEJEUNE N.C.) - A group of esteemed scientists and physicians have raised serious questions about Saturday's National Research Council report on toxic water at the Camp Lejeune Marine base in North Carolina.

The NRC statement reversed years of progress for sick Marines and people like Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine Master Sergeant who lost his little girl to cancer at Camp Lejeune. He and other advocates worked tirelessly to establish that Marines died of cancer from trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE) that originated from the base's contaminated water supply.

Marine dependents and civilian base workers and their children have shown clear signs of illnesses that stem from contact with these highly toxic chemical degreasing agents marketed by Dow and Dupont without adequate warnings.

Every sign of hope and forward progress came to a screeching halt Saturday when National Research Council scientists, assembled under the direction of the Department of the Navy, the agency most directly liable for all of the problems on the Marine base, released their "report" stating that the data they had been using was now inadequate. They went further by declaring that no amount of research would likely lead to a connection between TCE, Camp Lejeune and a long list of sick, dead and dying Marines.

Very convenient, many advocates say, that all of those facts connecting the federal government to its moral and fiscal responsibility to Marines suddenly no longer exists.

Maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that they aren't going to get away with it. Since our first report on this over the weekend, National Research Council on TCE Kicks U.S. Marines to the Curb, we have learned that a North Carolina Republican Senator has jumped into the fray: (see: Burr Presses on Camp Lejeune Water Contamination at Hearing) as well as a Democratic Senator: (see: Hagan Jumps in the Ring for Marines.)

These are both heavyweight politicians in Washington.

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been trying to help determine whether the Navy and Marine Corps should have handled water contamination at Camp Lejeune differently.

U.S. Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, said "It’s clear that the water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated by a number of hazardous chemicals at unsafe levels."

He added, "I am deeply concerned about the conclusions in the report from the National Academy of Sciences. This latest report still raises more questions than it answers."

Regarding the counter statement published below, Jerry Ensminger pointed to the fact that, "These respected scientists have by their own free will written the below statement in protest to many of the erroneous conclusions/assumptions made in the NRC report released on 13 June 2009 regarding the Camp Lejeune water contamination tragedy."

Ensminger has essentially dedicated his life to exposing the contamination of Camp Lejeune and TCE. In regard to the scientists who drafted the statement below, he said: "I both praise and thank them for what they have done for all of the Marines, Sailors, their family members, and the thousands of civilian employees who were unwittingly exposed to the horrendous levels of contamination through their tapwater at Camp Lejeune."

Here is the unedited statement in response to National Research Council report on Camp Lejeune:

We are disappointed and dismayed at the report titled, “Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune – Assessing Potential Health Effects,” released by the National Research Council (NRC) on Saturday, June 13, 2009. This report was two years in preparation by scientists, many of whom we know and respect, that reached puzzling and in some cases erroneous conclusions. We are aware of the complex situation regarding availability and access to data, and each of us has participated in committees advising the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) about how to move forward with health studies. It is our view that the Marines and their families who were exposed to dangerous chemicals in the Camp Lejeune drinking water over several decades deserve to know if this exposure has had an effect on their health. The most direct way to assess this is to conduct valid epidemiologic studies of those who lived or worked there, and we urge ATSDR to continue their efforts to carry these to conclusion. The overall judgment about the impact of the chemicals on health can then be informed both by the general scientific literature the NRC reviewed, plus findings from directly relevant studies of the exposed population.

Specific areas where we disagree with the NRC report include their assessment of the water distribution modeling, their assessment of the risk caused by exposure to two of the principal contaminants (TCE and PCE), and the likelihood of conducting meaningful epidemiologic studies in this setting. We view the water modeling undertaken by ATSDR and its consultants as “state-of-the-art” and worth carrying through to completion so that it can be used in the on-going and proposed health studies. There may be uncertainties about specific levels of exposure for individual households or people, but these can be described in the study results. We also agree with the National Toxicology Program that TCE and PCE are “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens” and reject the characterization of the evidence as “limited/suggestive” as presented in the NRC report. We note that this characterization of solvent mixtures actually steps back from previous work done by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine in 2003. Finally, we disagree with the thrust of the NRC report that it is unlikely that scientifically informative epidemiologic studies of the Camp Lejeune population can be done. The NRC doubts that “definitive” answers can come from any study, but this sets the bar too high – no one study can provide definitive answers, and all studies must be considered in the light of other scientific evidence. From our experience in other settings, we believe that useful studies of the Camp Lejeune population are possible and furthermore that the Marines and their families deserve our government’s best efforts to carry them out.

For these reasons, we urge the ATSDR to consider this particular NRC report in the context of other expert advice they have received during the past decade and the competent work already done by agency staff. Since the NRC report is at such variance with the recommendations of other water modeling and epidemiologic experts, we believe it should not stand as the final word.


Ann Aschengrau, Sc.D., Professor

Associate Chair of the Department of Epidemiology

Boston University School of Public Health

Richard Clapp, D.Sc., MPH, Professor,

Boston University School of Public Health

David Ozonoff, MD, MPH,

Professor and Chair Emeritus of the Department of Environmental Health,

Boston University School of Public Health

Daniel Wartenberg, Ph.D., Professor

Environmental and Occupational Medicine

Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., Scholar in Residence

Ithaca College

Also see these articles:

National Research Council on TCE Kicks U.S. Marines to the Curb - Tim King

Hagan Jumps in the Ring for Marines -

Burr Presses on Camp Lejeune Water Contamination at Hearing -

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. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), the first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several other awards including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
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