WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law legislation to provide health care to thousands of sick Marine veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
The law will provide health care for people who lived or worked at the base from Jan. 1, 1957, through Dec. 31, 1987. They also must have a condition listed within the bill linked to exposure to dangerous chemicals, including trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride.
McClatchy Newspapers obtained documents in 2010 showing that potentially as much as 1.1 million gallons of fuel, containing benzene, leaked from underground storage tanks. Benzene is a fuel solvent known to cause cancer in humans.
The Tampa Bay Times has reported extensively on the water contamination since 2009, including stories noting that the Marine Corps had failed to caution its personnel about polluted water despite numerous early warnings. The Times was the first to report that men with ties to the base were suffering from rare breast cancer. Documents show Marine leaders were slow to respond when tests first found evidence of contamination in the early 1980s.
The law provides health care for 15 diseases and illnesses, including several cancers, female infertility and scleroderma, a group of diseases that causes skin and sometimes internal organs to become hard and tight.
Meanwhile, federal scientists have several reports yet to come: on the extent and type of contamination, on death rates among Lejeune Marines, on male breast cancer and on miscarriages and birth defects.