RALEIGH, N.C. — Thousands of newly released documents about water contamination at Camp Lejeune add to the evidence that the military long knew about tainted tap water blamed for deaths and illnesses of Marines and their families, and that officials covered up the information for years, a North Carolina congressman said Friday.
"For the last 30 years, instead of saying there could be health effects and or even we don't know what the health effects are, they've minimized it," said Democratic Rep. Brad Miller.
On Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., released more than 8,500 Department of Defense documents relating to the water contamination that continued at the base for decades. The release came the same week the Senate approved a bill to provide health care for Marines and their relatives who suffered due to the contamination. The bill covers Marines who lived or worked at the base from Jan. 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 1987.
Water supplied to Camp Lejeune's main family housing areas was contaminated by dry cleaning solvents and other sources from the 1950s until 1987. Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to tainted water. Among them was Janey Ensminger, who was 9 when she died of leukemia in 1985. The bill providing health care for the victims is named after her.
Since her death, her father has pushed to find information about the contamination. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine who lives in Elizabethtown, N.C., has started combing through the documents and said he has already found one from 1985 that describes trichloroethylene — or TCE — as toxic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn't classify TCE as a known cause of cancer in humans until September.
The Marines have said for years they didn't know at the time that TCE was harmful because it wasn't included in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Ensminger said. "Yet they had it classified as toxic in their own documents and they're still lying about it," he said.
He added, "The facts are, they have all these documents, and they knowingly poisoned their own people."