Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oh, the Water...

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)
Shall I detail for the USMC the things that have happened with my family, just so they know that no one gets out unscathed?
  • 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)
As you can see, it looks as though our daughter took the worst of it; however none of us is out of the woods. We are all at a high risk for cancer now, simply because of that overexposure while at Camp Lejeune. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

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


SandyCarlson said...

This is scary stuff. I have read about it before and wondered about the psychological and physical effects of these contaminants and how we address a problem that never happened. Frightening.

Jo said...

Omigod! This is Erin Brockovich's story all over again. Perhaps you could contact her to assist you. I think you have a very (!!) strong case. It has affected everyone in your family, and as far as I am concerned, that is criminal. Someone needs to be held accountable, and yes, someone needs to step up to the plate and help your daughter. And to think this all happened while your husband was serving his country makes it even more unacceptable.

Please keep us posted!

the walking man said...

RP...I hope your fight with the Government and VA doesn't go through the protracted bullshit that Agent Orange and Desert Storm chemical attack victims have gone through.

Get an attorney and have your daughter sign over power of attorney top get all of her medical and work records using the attorney's signature. If not I guarantee you she will be signing release forms for the next 5 years.

Akelamalu said...

This is really scary stuff. I hope your family get some redress but, as you say, it won't reverse what has happened. :(

Jay said...

That is just terrible. Have we learned nothing over the years? Why do people continue to try to cover this kind of thing up?

I think it is particularly heinous when it happens to families of the armed forces. Your spouses and fathers and mothers are already giving their all to their country. Their families have a right to expect excellent treatment, not this kind of cavalier disregard for their safety.

I wish you every success in your fight for compensation. I'm sorry this happened to you.

Lavinia said...

This is heartbreaking and frightening. And makes me very angry too...because it was preventable...all that suffering, death, illness would never have happened if those in charge had taken better care. I would strongly endorse your attempt to fight back and obtain compensation and monies that will surely be needed, as you say, for your daughter's medical needs. Aside from that, compensation for the rest of the family too and all you've been put through, and may continue to go through, on account of this unspeakable carelessness and disregard for your lives, health, and future. Meanwhile continue looking into vitamins and foods that boost immune systems. My cousin tells me that oil of oregano is proving beneficial, but I haven't really looked into it yet. (I plan to).

All my best wishes for a good outcome in this battle against 'the powers that be'.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

This kind of thing makes me so angry, but also so deflated. It doesn't even surprise me anymore--how the US government treats its employees and families of employees. Don't they know we see through the bullshit?

As for your situation, at least they are finally owning up to it. What about the millions of other families in that situation right now? Who won't get their validation until twenty years from now? It is just terrible. I hope you daughter gets the funds to maintain her care. And you too. Hugs.

RiverPoet said...

Sandy - Yes, it makes me so angry that this may have been the reason my daughter has had such a horrible time.

Josie - I hadn't thought about contacting Erin B. I wonder if she would take this on?

Walking Man - Thanks for the information. I'll take that to heart. BTW my brother is a sufferer of Gulf War Syndrome, and the government, as you know, doesn't want to admit that even exists. It's horrible. He's been sick since he got back from his second tour on Diego Garcia.

Akela - True, so true. But that won't stop me from trying, you know?

Jay - "Their families have a right to expect excellent treatment, not this kind of cavalier disregard for their safety." You said it all, sister.

Lavinia - Thank you for your support and your suggestions. I very much appreciate it.

NATUI - I credit the other families for putting on the pressure that has caused the USMC to finally cooperate with the water study. It's the unfortunate families who have lost one or more children to birth defects or cancer who have put on the heaviest pressure. They've suffered the gravest losses.

Peace - D

Moannie said...

Oh my dear, I am so sorry for this awful thing that has happened to you and God knows how many others. I get so angry at the cavalier way the 'powers that be' treat we who have put them in power. And this is not, by any means, an isolated incident. All over the world big business cuts corners; only today here in England we have a breaking scandal as it is discovered that trash, which we are obliged by law to separate for re-cycling [and there are huge fines for those who make the smallest mistake] is, in 26 counties, being shipped to India and China, to be buried in their ground. Contaminated radioactive waste is still being dumped at sea or shipped to third world countries for disposal.

On wednesday, scientists are going to attempt to do something awful with atoms in an enormous accellerator deep under France and Switzerland...they say it will be safe, but they don't know what if anything will happen...find the future of our planet, or destroy it in a black hole? HOW DARE THEY ALL TINKER WITH US, OUR CHILDREN AND OUR FUTURE. And that goes for all who play God.

Please be well and keep strong, wish I could pray for you, but I think He has his head in his hands.

tysdaddy said...

Wow! This is amazing, and frightening I imagine. So long ago, yet the effects linger.

I would encourage you to keep up posted, but seeing as how this is a government thing, we may be waiting long past my expiration date . . .

Employee No. 3699 said...

This is horrible. I hope you and others will get, at the least, monetary compensation to help with future care needed.

As I am fairly new here I don't know if it's been mentioned before, but has your husband been affected by this?

Burgh Baby said...

I hope y'all are able to dodge the bullet on that one.

I grew up near a nuclear base and always wonder. There has been sooooo much cancer in my family that it seems environment has to be a factor.

Hilary said...

RP, I'm so sorry that your family is going through this mess. I hope you will find some sort of resolve, however inadequate through this investigation. Please keep us posted.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Oh, darlin'. I'm so very sorry. I had no idea. I don't have the words. I'm like NATUI in that it makes me angry, but also deflated. I look at the people from Charleston, West Virginia, my hometown, aka "Chemical Valley" and the higher-than-normal cancer rates and it saddens me.

I hope you guys get a shit-ton of monetary restitution. It doesn't solve anything but it would help.

Many hugs and kisses.

Ruth D~ said...

My husband was there during the late 60's early 70's-- somebody else's husband then-- but he got the notification, too. Scary for him and his son who was born about that time.