Because the base water system drew on a rotating basis from a number of different wells, subsequent tests showed no problems, and officials chalked these “interferences” up to flukes. One base employee told the fact-finding group that in 1980, “they simply did not have the money nor capacity” to test every drinking water well on the base.
“This type of money would have cost well over $100,000, and their entire operating budget was $100,000,” the employee said, according to a heavily redacted summary obtained by the AP from the Department of Justice through the Freedom of Information Act. “However, they did not do the well testing because they did not think they needed to.”
So, from late 1980 through the summer of 1982, the former employee told investigators, “this issue simply laid there. No attempts were made to identify ground contamination” at Hadnot Point or Tarawa Terrace, where most of the enlisted men and their families lived.
It wasn’t until a letter from Grainger in August 1982 reported TCE levels of 1,400 ppb that any kind of widespread testing began. Though the EPA did not yet enforce a limit for TCE at the time, the chemical had long been known to cause serious health problems.
“That is when the light bulb went off,” Sharpe told federal investigators in a 2004 interview, obtained by the AP. “That is when we connected the tests of the 1980, 1981, and 1982 time period where traces of solvents were detected to this finding.”
Still, it was not until the final weeks of 1984 that the first wells were closed down. Between the receipt of that 1982 letter and the well closures, the employee told the fact-finding group, “they simply dropped the ball.”
Each year of delay meant an additional 10,000 people may have been exposed, according to Marine estimates.
Municipal utilities around the country were using far more sophisticated tests to detect much lower contaminate levels, said Kaltofen, while the people at Camp Lejeune were doing “the bare minimum. And it wasn’t enough.”
Last year, President Obama signed the Camp Lejeune Veterans and Family Act to provide medical care and screening for Marines and their families, but not civilians, exposed between 1957 and 1987 – although preliminary results from water modeling suggest that date be pushed back at least another four years. The law covers 15 diseases or conditions, including female infertility, miscarriage, leukemia, multiple myeloma, as well as bladder, breast, esophageal, kidney and lung cancer.
Jerry Ensminger, a former drill sergeant, blames the water for the leukemia that killed his 9-year-old daughter, Janey, in 1985. He and Michael Partain – a Marine’s son who is one of at least seven dozen men with Lejeune ties diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer – have scoured the records, and he thinks the Corps has yet to accept responsibility for its role in this tragedy.<< previous 1 2 3 4 5 6