WASHINGTON – Marine families who lived at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina over three decades drank water contaminated with toxins as much as 40 times beyond today’s safety standard, federal health investigators said Tuesday.
The government disclosed results from a new scientific study on the same day that some families testified for Congress about cancers and other illnesses they blame on drinking tainted tap water at the sprawling training and deployment base.
The House Energy and Commerce panel, which conducted the hearing, described the sickened Marines as “poisoned patriots.”
At least 850 former residents of the base have filed administrative claims, seeking nearly $4 billion, for exposure to the industrial solvents TCE and PCE that contaminated Camp Lejeune’s drinking wells before 1987.
“My wife and I now have new full-time careers just staying alive and figuring out how to pay for it all,” former Navy Dr. Michael Gros of Spring, Texas, said. He learned years after his work in the 1980s as an obstetrician and gynecologist at Camp Lejeune that he had a rare type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Gros told lawmakers Tuesday that he has accumulated medical bills of more than $4.5 million and he worries regularly about bankruptcy.
The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said its new modeling and analysis of Camp Lejeune’s Tarawa Terrace drinking water system from 1957 to 1987 found levels of the dry-cleaning solvent PCE, or tetrachloroethylene, as high as 200 parts per billion, compared to 5 parts per billion that federal regulators in 1992 would set as the maximum allowable level.
TCE, or trichloroethylene, is a degreasing solvent. The government describes both chemicals as probable carcinogens.
The Navy Judge Advocate General’s office promised lawmakers it will “thoroughly analyze each and every claim utilizing the best scientific research available,” according to prepared testimony. It is waiting for a government scientific study about how the water affected babies in utero.
Jerry Ensminger of White Lake, N.C., a Marine for 24 years, lost his 9-year-old daughter to leukemia. In heart-rending testimony, he described comforting her during agonizing cancer treatments. He said toward the end of her life, she endured taunts from classmates teasing her about her appearance after chemotherapy.
“It is time for the United States Marine Corps to live up to their motto ‘Semper Fidelis,’” always faithful, Ensminger said.
Marine Corps officials said that Camp Lejeune provided water consistent with industry practices of the time.
Marine officials have said they didn’t immediately act when they learned of the contaminants because the federal standards were not yet in place.