CDC report shows danger at Camp Lejeune
The horror of Camp Lejeune, already one of the worst cases of drinking water contamination in American history, continues to grow. So does the shame of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a long-suspected link between toxic chemicals in drinking water at the base and an increased risk of birth defects and childhood cancer.
The contamination stretches back decades, with exposure ending in 1987, when the Marine Corps closed the last contaminated wells at the base.
Based on a survey of the parents of more than 12,000 children born at Lejeune between 1968 and 1985, the CDC concluded that pregnant women who drank tap water at the base were four times more likely to have babies with serious birth defects such as spina bifida. The study also found a slightly elevated risk for childhood cancers such as leukemia.
The study is limited in its findings. Researchers told The Associated Press that they were able to confirm only 52 cases of specific illnesses related to chemical exposure at Lejeune based on medical records. The cause can't be definitely shown for other birth defects and cancer diagnoses.
But the CDC study is the latest evidence of widespread health problems linked to leaks from a fuel depot at the base and a dry cleaner outside the base.
Although some contaminants were addressed in federal regulations dating to 1963, the Marine Corps repeatedly downplayed health problems at Lejeune over the years and didn't take action until 1985.
By that time, an estimated 1 million Marines and their families had been exposed.
Last year, President Barack Obama signed legislation expanding health care resources for those individuals. (Information on compensation claims for Lejeune veterans and their families can be found at the Department of Veterans Affairs website at http://goo.gl/D48rJS.)
The compensation covers 15 health problems, including multiple forms of cancer. More than 80 men with connections to Lejeune have been diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer.
For the Marine Corps and the VA, the mission remains much as it was before last week's news. They need to expedite claims and continue reaching out to veterans and their families and to any civilians who may have been exposed to carcinogens at the base.
Research also should continue on the extent of contamination. Among other things, the government needs to delve deeper into reports of problems related to storage of DDT and other insecticides in a building later used as a day care.
The government also must explore further when the contamination began. The legislation covers exposure beginning in 1957, but some research indicates at least one carcinogen may have been present as early as 1948.
Last week's CDC report was difficult but welcome news for Lejeune veterans and family members who've fought many years for answers.
The Marine Corps, the VA, the president and Congress need to continue working to address those concerns.
The loss of human life and the suffering cannot be reversed. But the Marine Corps can ensure it doesn't leave behind the men and women whose health was damaged at Lejeune.