From the 1950s to the 1980s, the drinking water at Camp Lejeune (near Wilmington, N.C.) was contaminated with some of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind, including TCE, DCE, PCE, vinyl chloride, methylene chloride, chloroform, toluene and benzene. At least four of those chemicals can be found on the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry’s 2005 top 20 list of hazardous substances (www.atsdr.cdc.gov/cxcx3.html).
The U.S. Marine Corps Web site (www.usmc.mil/camplejeune/clbwatersurveyinfo.nsf) provides a chronology of contamination that seems mind-boggling to those who drank, cooked with, showered and allowed their children to play in that water. According to this chronology, the contaminant levels were many, many times higher than what’s considered acceptable today. On Feb. 4, 1985, TCE was detected in well 651 at 18,900 parts per billion. Many of the people who drank that water now suffer from illnesses such as cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, deteriorating discs, chronic sinusitis and stomach, bowel and skin problems. Many have had miscarriages, thyroid disease, unexplained muscle/bone/joint pain, cysts, respiratory disease, anemia, migraines, birth defects or neurological problems. My husband and I are among the many who believe the water contamination caused those illnesses.
Visit www.watersurvivors.com; the stories you’ll find there are heartbreaking. Take a look at the victim’s registry and the discussion group (have a box of Kleenex handy). Next, visit www.tftptf.com. Click on “articles” and read the one titled “Justice for Janey”: It’s a must-read item.
Little has been done to help those who were poisoned. Although one study is under way, it excludes the vast majority of those who were exposed. More studies have been proposed. Meanwhile, few survivors even know they were exposed. They know that they, their children and grandchildren are sick; they know their health only gets worse. They don’t know why.
Camp Lejeune survivors and their families must also deal with other problems. People don’t think it’s possible for someone to be so sick for so long, with so many illnesses. Some people think the Camp Lejeune families are fakes or hypochondriacs.
My husband was at Camp Lejeune; he suffers from many illnesses. He had a fractured vertebra and three vertebrae fused together. He has deteriorating discs, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic sinusitis, chronic skin problems, chronic stomach problems, short-term memory loss, anxiety attacks and more. He hurts constantly and can’t sleep. His reactions to medications are often the opposite of what they should be, which makes it hard for his doctor to help him.
As a result, my husband has been unable to work since 1994. People have suggested that I divorce him because he won’t support his family, but it’s not his fault. Our life consists of doctor and hospital bills, drugstores and financial struggle. We haven’t done Christmas for at least 12 years, because we can’t afford it. I hate to go to stores during the holidays: Seeing all those people buying things for their children makes me feel I’m not part of the same world everyone else lives in.
Above all, I want my family to be healthy. But that doesn’t seem possible for my husband. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances, vinyl chloride exposure can cause severe health issues and early death. According to the “water survivors” Web site, these contaminants may cause severe health effects for at least three generations.
Lacking a scientific degree, I can’t say for sure that Camp Lejeune water contamination is responsible for the health problems facing my family. I can say, from what I’ve read, that it sure seems to explain a lot.
My future scares the s**t out of me. I don’t want to watch my husband suffer; I don’t want my son to have migraines. I fear early death for both of them, and I don’t want to live my old age without them.
Knowing about the contamination doesn’t help much, either. Some survivors wonder whether even their doctors take them seriously. Imagine going to your doctor and saying you’d been contaminated at Camp Lejeune with a cocktail of some of the most hazardous substances known to man. Try explaining that as many as 1 million people may have drunk that water. Do you think you would be taken seriously?
Are people cruel because they don’t believe the Camp Lejeune survivors? I choose to think they simply don’t believe something like this can happen in the United States. It’s hard for me to accept it, too, but it did happen.
Neither the Marine Corps, the Centers for Disease Control, the ATSDR, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources nor any other government bureaucracy denies that the contamination took place. But one more study or 100 more studies won’t keep a roof over a family’s heads or put food on the table. How many more victims will die before the next study is completed?
In my opinion, the United States of America—the greatest country in history—has “divorced” the Camp Lejeune families. But I still hope that this great nation will finally help these families in need. Sen. Elizabeth Dole has attached amendment 2321 to H.R. 1585 (the Defense Authorization Bill) requiring the secretary of the Navy to notify everyone who drank the contaminated water. Sens. Kerry and Clinton are co-sponsoring a bill to protect drinking-water supplies from TCE contamination.
Please help the Camp Lejeune families by contacting your representatives and asking them to support amendment 2321 to H.R. 1585 and the Kerry/Clinton bill protecting water supplies.
The United States of America is better than what has happened to these families. We don’t just throw people away. Or do we?
[Carol Davis raises goats and Corsican sheep in Canton, N.C.]