WASHINGTON – Former Marines convinced that contaminated water sickened their families at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune are demanding that Congress intervene in their dispute even as the military considers their claims for compensation.
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. They blame their cancers and other illnesses on tainted tap water at the sprawling training and deployment base.
The House Energy and Commerce panel on oversight and investigations planned a hearing Tuesday. It described the sickened Marines as "poisoned patriots."
"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 in testimony prepared for the hearing. He was stunned to learn years after his work in the 1980s as an obstetrician and gynecologist at Camp Lejeune that he had a rare non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
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.
Federal health officials have new analyses indicating Camp Lejeune's water was contaminated as far back as 1957 and up to 1987. The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry cites the new endpoint — nearly two years after the Marines said they closed all the tainted wells — in a continuing study on whether Camp Lejeune's water led to leukemia and birth defects in children.
TCE, or trichloroethylene, is a degreasing solvent, and PCE, or tetrachloroethylene, is a dry-cleaning agent. The government describes them as probable carcinogens.
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.
Jerry Ensminger of White Lake, N.C., a Marine for 24 years, lost his 9-year-old daughter to leukemia. He takes a different view. "It is time for the United States Marine Corps to live up to their motto 'Semper Fidelis,"' always faithful, he said.