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Federal Agency Money Bickering Could Spell Doom for Sick MarinesTim King Salem-News.com
A squabble between the Navy and researchers threatens funding of a vital study that can help Marines rendered sick and worse by water contamination.
(SALEM, Ore.) - We reported recently that thousands of Marines and their families, as well as civilian employees at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, are sick from contaminated water on the Marine Corps base. (see: Marine Death Camp: Camp Lejeune Trichlorethylene - the Culprit) Now word is out that the completion of a government water contamination study that is underway is threatened; as the program is half a million dollars short.
For the last several months military and federal health officials have squabbled over the money according to former Marine Robert O'Dowd, who along with a growing number of other advocates are paying close attention. It has been announced that the groups might be able to reach agreement by Sunday. That would stop the study from being derailed.
That would be good, because it stands to affect claims by over a thousand former residents of Camp Lejeune who seek nearly $10 billion in damages from the government over health problems attributed to exposure to TCE contaminated water at the base through the mid-1980s.
TCE in the Water
The study is extremely important and is years in development. The Associated Press reported that "The Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General is awaiting results of the health study before acting on the claims. The Marines estimate that 500,000 Camp Lejeune residents may have been exposed to the tainted water, including thousands of Vietnam-bound Marines."
There appear to be different sources for the TCE that entered the water supply at Camp Lejeune. Trichloroethane is a chemical that was used to clean airplane parts and for many other industrial purposes, and it is highly toxic.
The same problem, water-based TCE contamination is also affecting Marines who served at the now-closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Southern California. In that case Marines were also exposed to TCE vapors while working on the flightline.
Too Many Stillborn Babies
In the article cited above, Dr. Phil Leveque relates the story of a woman whose husband in 1970 was a 24-year old Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
This Marine wife became pregnant and had what seemed to be a healthy and normal, full-term pregnancy. But the baby was stillborn and to the doctors and nurses present, it made little sense.
The woman told me that another Marine Corps wife that she knew had the same exact thing happen; her baby was stillborn after a normal pregnancy. This particular mom wanted to have an inscribed headstone and a proper burial for the stillborn infant and the command at Camp Lejeune objected and fought the mother for a year.
In each case, when then new mother gave birth, the doctor greeted them with a similar, "the baby's dead" which shocked both women, and ultimately linked them together.
In retrospect, it appears that there were so many babies stillborn on this Marine Corps base in North Carolina that the real number would have been staggering, and it is also fairly clear that the command was doing everything possible to avoid having a whole section of the cemetery filled with graves of babies.
The woman and her husband did not press the issue, and she suspects that most Marines and their wives were talked out of burying stillborn infants. The government needs to produce vital records that do exist and so far nobody is making that task an easy one.
Her husband, a perfectly healthy and strong Marine, contracted Lymphocitic Leukemia, cancer of the blood and bone marrow, and died a short time later at the age of 25.
It is no wonder she joins O'Dowd and other point people today in the effort to bring fairness and honesty to the people that have suffered due to what is obviously a clear mistake of the Marine Corps and the Navy.
Lives Hang in the Balance
The AP reports that the Navy has hesitated issuing the payment because the health agency didn't follow Navy reporting and planning procedures and sufficiently detail its spending. It appears that the Navy would turn its back on its own responsibility to the affected Marines over a technicality.
There was an apparent flurry of heated exchanges between officials over the matter that spanned from December until this month.
The study is being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. They have confirmed that the research would be placed in jeopardy if the Navy refuses to pay the $522,000, and that only guarantees that the study will continue beyond Sunday.
"We fully understand our responsibility," Richard Mach, a top Navy environmental official, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. He indicated that there may have been misunderstanding and appeared to back peddle, saying, "We are not trying to delay this."
The purpose of the important and endangered study, is specifically to investigate cancer and birth defects among babies born to women at Camp Lejeune prior to the closure of the contaminated wells in the mid-1980s. It only includes mothers who lived at the base during the course of their pregnancies.
This is not the only study that health officials have planned. At this point the study has indicated that solvents from a dry cleaner located next to the base as well as on-base industrial activity resulted in tainted groundwater for a span of approximately 30 years.
It seems like resolution in the Camp Lejeune case will take time either way, but the idea of ending the study right now over an amount that we spend every day fighting the war in Iraq, is nothing short of a slap on the face of the Marines who served there, and they aren't the only ones.
It appears that TCE contamination affects many more military installations throughout the United States than have been identified, particularly air bases. Closing the lid on the Camp Lejeune study would delay any resolution for at least a year, Navy officials admitted. For a problem that has already claimed so many lives, that seems far too long.
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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