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Panel Probes Claims Camp Lejeune Water Caused Health Problems

Posted November 15, 2007

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— During a 30-year span, officials said as many as 1 million people at Camp Lejeune used water tainted with solvents. On Thursday, a 14-member committee from the National Academy of Sciences heard from nearly a dozen people suffering from health problems they believe were caused by the contamination.

"We are not numbers in a study. We are human beings that have had great tragedies," said Mary Freshwater, a former Lejeune resident. She said the contamination caused the deaths of two of her children, as well as her health problems.

Base officials do not deny that solvents from ABC One Hour Cleaners contaminated several wells across the street from the Tarawa Terrace I base housing complex. Officials closed the wells in 1987 after 30 years' of use, but say they are not convinced the contamination caused health problems.

Residents from the period of possible contamination spoke to the National Research Council Committee on Contaminated Drinking Water at Camp Lejeune. The committee is made up of experts from across the country specializing in a variety of fields from groundwater contamination to health and science issues.

 "We have been unjustly contaminated, resulting in a disease that threatens to shorten our lives," Chris Thomas, a former resident, said.

Many said they believe exposure to the water led to miscarriages, birth defects and cancer. Cindy Crib said the water sickened three of her four children, and Jeff Byron said his daughter suffers from multiple birth defects and learning and developmental disabilities.

Panel members also visited contaminated sites on base. They said their probe, still in its investigative stage, will concentrate on the science, but the interviews revealed the level of concern surrounding the issue.

"Certainly, it's important in providing a context, that is, the level of concern, the long-standing nature of the concern," Dr. Dave Suavity, chairman of the committee, said.

Former residents also questioned Camp Keene's handling of the situation.

"Why didn't they put out a report saying not to drink the water?" Hill said. "I want to know why."

"I want acknowledgment, and I want, 'I'm sorry," Freshwater said. During the hearings, she held up a blue onsie she said her infant wore when he died.

Camp Lejeune officials said they hope the study will shed new light on exactly what the water contamination could and could not have done.

"It's our desire right now to bring in as many experts as we can to take a look at the water situation," spokesman Maj. Nat Fay said.

In July, base officials notified residents of nearly 900 homes that testing was under way to determine whether a plume of chemicals had seeped through the ground to further contaminate water supplies and send vapors into buildings.

Data from the monitoring wells shows "that the plume of contamination from the ABC site does not extend beneath Tarawa Terrace Elementary School or housing area and is therefore not capable of generating a soil vapor intrusion concern," the statement said.

Another round of sampling on Aug. 1 included air at the elementary school and two unoccupied homes. Federal environmental officials said they found no chemical contamination under a school and houses used by military families at Camp Lejeune.

For their part, the Marines insist they followed environmental and health regulations in place at the time.

Nearly 900 people have already filed suit against the U.S. Pentagon, but that number could increase if researchers find a direct connection between the water and the illnesses.

Researchers said the study will be a challenge, considering it comes more than 20 years after the fact. In September, the U.S. Senate approved a measure that requires the military to personally inform anyone who could have been exposed.

Suavity said he expects the committee to release a report by late 2008.

12 Comments

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  • nisa-pizza Nov 15, 2:53 p.m.

    Here's an interesting websites that lists people and their symptoms.
    http://www.watersurvivors.com/about_us.asp
    http://www.watersurvivors.com/victims.asp

    I never knew this site was there til now and our family moved from Tarawa Terrace to Berkely Manor in Hadnot point which is another of the effected areas. I know the sisters Terry and Karen Fristoe (their little sister Johnsie was a good friend and their deceased dad too) that spearheaded this. I'd lost touch w/ them. In looking at these symptoms, I'm finding that I have some that are listed, but I never attributed them to that at all.

    I've gotten cysts since 1961 & have had 3 growths removed on right my side in the same area that keep coming back, I cannot have kids and I've always suffered extreme scarring from cysts & endometryosis. I get blinding headaches & doctors have never been able to find why. My youngest sister was born 3 mos. early which happened right after we moved back to Lejeune from Norfolk Va. Scary.

  • Spirit Warrior Woman - Rev. RB Nov 15, 11:40 a.m.

    What is so shameful about this is that they knew about the contamination for decades and continued to let the Marines and their families drink it.

    I hope and pray that lawsuits follow. Hate to see it against the government and especially the Marines of whom I was formerly a part, but darn it, right is right, and wrong is wrong.

    Withholding this information from those stationed there was just plain evil.

    Praying for them all.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • nisa-pizza Nov 15, 10:30 a.m.

    From what I understand everything is secure (that sounds so military) with the area that was formally contaminated. Now that this has had national attention finally, I'm sure they'd have to make sure everything was okay.

    I drove past the Tarawa Terrace housing and things have changed alot but there are still plenty of families over there. I never bothered to look and see across the street if ABC was still there and took for granted it was still operating. (I rarely get home much except for my sister's funeral in April) or heading to the beach every few years or so, so I never even notice if it was gone.

    The whole situation is scary

  • TheAdmiral Nov 15, 9:56 a.m.

    The last time I was in Jacksonville, there was a red-light district economy going on. So it is entirely possible that the company was responsible for cleaning up all of those "swedish massages" that were taking place in the parking lot of all of those establishments on the main drag.

  • whatelseisnew Nov 15, 9:38 a.m.

    nisa-pizza

    Another poster said that company went out of business. So given that the Feds are going to have to use our money to fix this. Generally I am not in favor of the taxpayer picking up the tab for things, but in this case, until they can prove the water supply is safe, they need to provide potable water for everyone, and as best they can they need to try to make everyone whole again. Meaning pay for health expenses, and compensate people that have been harmed by this. I am still amazed at how long this has been going on and not had a resolution.

  • nisa-pizza Nov 15, 9:03 a.m.

    whatelseisnew

    In knowing that entire base and Jacksonville NC too, there really isn't any doubt that the contaminants came from ABC cleaners only. There is no industry in Jacksonville except for a diesel manufactoring place that wasn't built until much later. Jacksonville is solely dependant on the base for it's revenue.

    When alot of troops ship out the town shuts down completely. NO back up at all. The only business of that criteria in the immediate area was ABC cleaners. Furniture stores, tattoo parlors, bars, and the like carpet the area. It was easily traced back to them because of the chemicals found. Civilian vehicles had no access to the base housing w/o going thru sentries the same with commercial vehicles. Outside businesses had to have contracts/permits to enter base housing which rarely happened since government housing is self sufficient w/ very few outside contracts. There would've been no way for just anyone to dump chemicals at that housing complex.

  • whatelseisnew Nov 15, 8:33 a.m.

    I sort of wonder if the contamination source is all from that cleaner. There was a time not so long ago when people and companies just dumped chemicals out on on the ground or even directly into a river. It is entirely possible stuff that was dumped years ago is leeching into the water supply. What is really hard to understand is how this could continue for so long and they have to do a committee probe?

  • mt1190 Nov 15, 8:15 a.m.

    the base needs to be held accountable for this PERIOD But mark my words they will find a way out of it.

  • Vincenzo R. Abacus Nov 15, 8:10 a.m.

    I expect because ABC cleaners has long since gone out of business. If we didn't let companies escape responsibility so easily, we'd see less of these silly misdirected lawsuits against deep pocket defendants. Although the truth of the matter is that if Camp Lejeune was aware of the situation, and did nothing, then in my opinion they're at least as guilty as ABC cleaners.

  • tmedlin Nov 15, 8:10 a.m.

    This was spearheaded by Elizabeth Dole - although I notice no mention of that in this article.

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