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Environmental connections to public health >>

Marine brass wants to limit Camp Lejeune water report

Friday, January 13, 2012

According to a Huffington Post article published today, U.S. Marine Corps officials have urged federal health experts not to release complete information about an ongoing federal water assessment at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, home to the largest documented case of water contamination at a domestic military facility.

Last week, Major General J.A. Kessler wrote officials of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a letter dated January 5th, asking for careful review of information about active water systems that "potentially places those who live or work aboard the base at risk."

Apparently Marine brass is worried that this information may end up in the wrong hands. No American wants to see that happen. But where was this insistence on greater force protection when cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and vinyl chloride were contaminating Camp Lejeune's drinking water? Lejeune officials repeatedly ignored warnings from independent scientists for four and a half years before finally taking serious steps to mitigate the pollution in 1984.

By then it was too late. Of the estimated 1 million people exposed to these chemicals while living and working aboard the base at least 73 have been diagnosed with male breast cancer and many more suffer from other rare cancers, chronic diseases and birth defects.

Given the Marine Corps' history of deception on this issue, its desire to protect "critical infrastructure information" from the public seems like just another attempt to further hinder the assessment process led by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This agency is conducting a battery of health studies including a mortality study of former Camp Lejeune residents, to be released in the coming year.

Thankfully, due to the leadership of Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (R-N.Y.) the Secretary of Defense is now required by law to consider whether the government's need to withhold this kind of information is outweighed by greater public interest, say, a veteran's right to know if her child's leukemia may have been caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.

The Environmental Working Group urges Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to give the public right to know high priority when limiting disclosure of information related to Camp Lejeune and other polluted military bases.

Please watch this trailer for the award-winning documentary, "Semper Fi: Always Faithful", which details the incident and its effects on Camp Lejeune's community. The film has been short-listed for an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

 

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