Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune's water supply was contaminated from 1957 to 1987 with trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), the former a degreasing solvent and the latter a cleaning solvent, both often used in dry cleaning (and the cleaning of weapons). My husband, who was enlisted at the time, said that they cleaned their weapons with TCE and dumped the remaining cleaner on the ground. They were told "it never happened" because they were improperly disposing of the cleaner.
What can TCE/PCE do to you? First off, they are known carcinogens, and this water was going into us (the military member and spouse), our children, and our pets. Pregnant women, myself included, were drinking this water.
The EPA's chemical fact sheet says, it "enters the body when breathed in with contaminated air or when consumed with contaminated food or water" and that "Laboratory studies show that [it] causes kidney and liver damage and cancer in animals exposed repeatedly by inhalation and by mouth. Repeat exposure to large amounts ... in air may likewise cause cancer in humans" (EPA 1994). The technical sheet says, about ingestion, "Drinking water levels which are considered 'safe' for short-term exposures: For a 10-kg (22 lb.) child consuming 1 liter of water per day: a one- to ten-day exposure to 2 mg/L; up to a 7-year exposure to 1 mg/L" (EPA 2006; emphasis mine).
Let me put that in perspective. My family and I lived on base from early 1986 to early 1988, drinking that tap water every day, boiling the water to make formula for our son (who was born in August '87), and using the water to bathe our kids, wash our dishes, water the dog, and wash our clothes. No bottled water, folks--not that we could have afforded it anyway, not on a LCPL's salary.
Prior to that, hubby was exposed from the time he arrived at Camp Lejeune in 1983 through the time he left in 1988. He was exposed (both directly through contact and inhalation and indirectly through drinking the water in the barracks and in his canteen). He was exposed during the time we conceived our daughter. He was exposed during the time we conceived our son. We were all exposed during the time we lived on base those two years, and we were unknowingly feeding toxic chemicals to our children.
None of this is breaking news, but it has come to the forefront of my attention again because of a letter we received from the USMC via the IRS about the contamination. Finally the government is taking it seriously, though many of the lawyers are still saying that the evidence is "anecdotal" and unproven. Finally the USMC is encouraging everyone to register on the site they've set up to track those of us who were exposed.
More than just cancer, the chemicals can cause the following long-term health effects:
- Drying and cracking of the skin
- Liver and kidney damage
- Neurological damage
- Damage to developing fetuses (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, "Tetrachloroethylene" 2002)
- Lupus (daughter)
- Bleeding disorder (daughter)
- Ventricular tachycardia (daughter)
- Kidney disease (daughter)
- Mental illness (daughter, of a grand proportion)
- Strange lumps (daughter and me)
- ADD/ADHD (son)
- Neurological disorders (daughter and me)
- Thyroid disorder (me)
- Skin issues (me)
- Multiple chemical sensitivity (me - and allergies to so many things)
We're still lucky, though, because others have already succumbed to the effects of their exposure. People have lost their children or had children born with severe birth defects. They've asked us to register, and we have. They are also saying that they are fully cooperating in the study and investigation. I just keep thinking. They knew this was going on. There are reports that they knew there was ground water contamination and did nothing to cap off the contaminated wells to protect their members and families. They turned a blind eye to it all until they couldn't do it anymore.
So far, one thousand Marines are suing for an estimated $10 billion in damages. I think we're going to have to get a lawyer involved and assemble our daughter's records. The government thinks this is important enough that they just gave another influx of money to the study, which is trying to determine whether the groundwater contamination had anything to do with all of the illnesses and deaths logged by the population it served.
No, money won't bring anyone back. Money won't make it all better. But money could help our daughter get the medical care she is going to require for the rest of her life and help her get by. With all of her mental and physical conditions, working is just about impossible. The big hurdle with her is getting her to assemble all of her many medical records or to allow an attorney to get them for her. She certainly has a remarkable medical history. I can't tell you how many doctors have been left shaking their heads, saying, "This doesn't usually happen in someone so young."
Maybe this isn't the post you were expecting this morning, but I find I'm very disgusted with the whole thing, the whole idea that this happened to us and to our kids. Our son is probably fine, but will he always be? Is he at a greater risk of lung cancer, kidney or liver cancer, or other forms of cancer like leukemia (a big one from TCE/PCE exposure)? After all, he was at his most vulnerable stages during all of our exposure. What about our daughter? How much of her problems can be directly traced to her exposure and to the fact that her father was so heavily exposed when we conceived her? How much did that mess up her DNA? We may never know.
Peace - D