Camp Lejeune Water Under Scrutiny
Tuesday, June 12, 2007; 10:04 PM
WASHINGTON -- Thousands of Marine families who lived at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina over three decades drank and bathed in water contaminated with toxins as much as 40 times over today's safety standard.
The government on Tuesday disclosed results from a new study the same day lawmakers listened to emotional testimony from families about cancers and other illnesses they blame on tainted tapwater at the sprawling base.
Jerry Ensminger of White Lake, N.C., lost his 9-year-old daughter, Janey, to leukemia. He was a Marine for 24 years. He said toward the end of his daughter's life, she endured painful treatments.
"I held her and she screamed in my ear, 'Daddy, don't let them hurt me,'" he said. He said he reassured her: "They're trying to help you."
Marine Corps officials said that Camp Lejeune provided water consistent with industry practices of the time, and that its Marines' health and safety are of primary concern.
As many as 1 million people were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, according to a document from a federal health agency disclosed at Tuesday's congressional hearing. That figure is significantly higher than previous estimates. The document estimated the number of residents exposed to such chemicals while living at each of nine U.S. military sites, including Camp Lejeune.
The House Energy and Commerce panel described the sickened Marines as "poisoned patriots."
The chairman of the committee, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said he will examine handling of the water investigation in 2005 by the Environmental Protection Agency's criminal division. An EPA investigator, Tyler Amon, acknowledged Tuesday that officials had considered accusing some civilian Navy employees of obstruction of justice.
Amon, who testified despite objections from the Bush administration, said some employees interviewed during the criminal investigation appeared coached and were not forthcoming with details.
Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, the panel's ranking Republican, said he was puzzled criminal charges weren't pursued.
"We have many people who have died," Whitfield said. "We have many people who have suffered significant health problems."
Camp Lejeune's water was polluted from 1957 until 1987 by TCE, a degreasing solvent, and PCE, a dry-cleaning agent. The government describes them as probable carcinogens. The water was believed contaminated by a dry cleaner adjacent to Camp Lejeune and by industrial activities on the base.