As many has half a million people who lived on or near the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina have been exposed to highly toxic chemicals that infiltrated the camp’s groundwater from 1957 to 1987. The U.S. government and the Marine Corps blame a now-closed dry cleaning company that once operated off-base but in the area of the camp, in addition to toxic chemicals that leaked from underground storage tanks and unsafe chemical disposal procedures on base.The Marine Corps began closing Camp Lejeune’s wells in 1984, after tests showed dangerously high levels of two industrial solvents in the water. Analyses of the base’s water supply revealed concentrations of trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene more than 40 times above limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This water tastes funny,” former Marine John Hartung remembers thinking when he spent 6 months at Camp Lejeune in 1977, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They said that’s how it tastes down here,” Hartung told the Journal Sentinel.
After months of drinking the water on base and showering and swimming in it, Hartung developed cysts on his neck. He also started noticing that many other fellow Marines were afflicted with cysts and rashes. More than 30 years later, Hartung battles chronic fatigue and other ailments that prevent him from working.
Now it’s Hartung’s mission to spread the word about Camp Lejeune’s toxic past. He launched a website that seeks to educate others about the problem.
“I want to see people get their benefits and to say, ‘I was poisoned, but at least they took care of me and my family,'” Hartung told the Journal Sentinel.
Research of the camp’s water problems yielded some disturbing patterns in the health of those who once lived at the camp. Incidences of cancer, birth defects, and illnesses in children born on base were much higher during the period of time when the groundwater was tainted.
The Marines Corps is working to contact everyone who might have been affected by the poisonous water. It has established a website and call center to handle the issue. It is also getting the word out through direct mail, coordinating with local and national media, and informing veterans groups.
The full Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, which includes accounts of other Marines sickened by Camp Lejeune’s water supply, can be viewed here.