Willful Negligence At Camp Lejeune?

Jimmy Fontella perused the files on his computer with casual interest. They were packed onto a DVD from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Jimmy was searching for documentation concerning carcinogens released during the contamination of the environment at Camp Lejeune.

Suddenly something jumped out at Jimmy that really caught his eye. A report indicated that more than 800,000 gallons of fuel had been recorded as having leaked from underground fuel tanks but only 500,000 gallons were recovered by the contractor hired to remediate the fuel loss. Jimmy quickly called his friend and colleague, Jerry Ensminger and they conferred on this discovery.

Jerry has campaigned long and hard to get to the bottom of this contamination issue since losing his little girl, Janey, to Leukemia in 1985. Jerry contacted those interested parties in Congress and the press who have been following the Camp Lejeune contamination situation and the story broke into the news, creating a ground swell of outrage among those 150,000 veterans and family members who have been made ill as a result of exposure to contamination.

No longer were the denial and obfuscation tactics of the Department of the Navy (DON) going to have any measure of credibility. Scientists from the ATSDR had provided, finally, proof positive that the contamination, and type of contamination, was far worse than anyone could have imagined.

But that is not the end of the story. The same scientists at ATSDR also came across the existence of an electronic “portal” that contained numerous documents and reports relating to the leaking tanks and the fuel contamination aboard the base. The odd thing about this electronic “portal” is that a user ID and password was needed to access these files. Scientists thought that this was odd considering the fact that the files were supposed to be in the public domain. Further scrutiny of these files revealed that the magnitude of the fuel losses was never communicated to either the ATSDR or the public.

The legal and moral significance of this negligence did not escape all at the time. The Senior Attorney for Camp Lejeune wrote a letter in March 1988 to the Commanding General stating that he had recently attended a meeting where the Base Environmental Engineer had reported losses of 1,500 gallons of fuel being lost into the ground per month due to leaks in the system. The attorney was concerned about the health impact of such a large amount of contamination and felt obligated to express his concerns.

At the same time this letter was written, an engineering contractor was studying the fuel leaks and potential contamination in order to assess the possibility of recovering the leaked fuel. The contractor’s final report was issued in December of 1988 and within that report was a mention of “known” fuel losses.

The losses reported earlier in the year by the Base Environmental Engineer of 1,500 gallons per month had not been made available to the contractor and were consequently not included as part of the study. On the surface it appears that the DON even withheld that information from a contractor hired to study fuel spill remediation!

With ATSDR access to this electronic “portal” as part of their congressionally mandated studies, it is anticipated that more detailed documentation on this matter will be available to the public and to those veterans and family members living with the horrible consequences of exposure to contamination. Finally, our poisoned patriots will be able to know how badly they have been poisoned and, as a result of ATSDR studies, may be able to learn of any future illnesses that can be expected from such extreme exposure to known carcinogens.

Withholding such information from a population of sick Americans is willful negligence. Veterans and family members have died while this information was locked away in an electronic “portal”. Every day, 150,000 ill veterans and family members fight a terrible array of sickness bought to their door by contamination exposure. Many of these illnesses are cancers or similar illnesses that carry the best chance of defeat if caught in the early stages. By locking away the true extent of contamination, these chances have been taken away from our brave veterans and family members.

The final word on this article comes from the Russian writer and Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn:

How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?

David Bedworth
A disabling encounter with prostate and brain cancer put David Bedworth in a situation where he could not work and had limited abilities as a result of treatment. However, brain surgery stimulated a long dormant creative surge in literature, music and poetry. He contributed to The Student Operated Press and collaborated with his sister on a collection of illustrated poems. He also worked with a group of ill veterans and family members who were exposed to contaminants at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Sadly, he passed away, but his work remains, reminding us of the man he was.