TAMPA — A Michigan lawmaker who was an architect of the Clean Drinking Water Act Friday called for congressional hearings on Camp Lejeune water pollution after a report showed high levels of carcinogens from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat, urged the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to hold hearings to "help answer the pressing questions that remain unanswered in the face of this catastrophe."
In a letter to Rep. Fred Upton, the committee's chair, Dingell said, "The country as a whole would benefit from an open discussion about the implications of one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation's history."
Dingell continued, "This devastating report gives us a more complete picture of the appalling levels of carcinogens in the groundwater that our Marines and their families were exposed to . . . As a result, many residents of Camp Lejeune have died, contracted rare cancers, and have had their children born with horrible birth defects."
Upton, a Michigan Republican, is reviewing the request, his office says.
Dingell's call for hearings came the same day as the official release of a report by scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry showing Lejeune water was polluted by four carcinogens during its history.
The greatest level of contamination, the report said, involved vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE) in drinking water at the North Carolina base that reached levels 33 to 153 times greater than what is today considered safe.
These compounds originate from several potential sources, including industrial solvents used at the Marine Corps base.
"All of the causes of this drinking water contamination must be identified and understood to ensure that this can never happen again," Dingell said in his letter. "This is best achieved through an open process of committee hearings with full participation of all relevant stakeholders."
A Marine Corps spokesman could not be reached to comment on Dingell's request. Earlier Friday, the corps said it supported ATSDR's research.
The report "marks a major milestone towards the completion of scientific efforts pertaining to this issue and another step in ongoing efforts to provide comprehensive science-based answers to the health questions that have been raised," said a statement by the Marine Corps.
ATSDR currently has several health studies under way, including studies of childhood cancer, birth defects and male breast cancer. The water model released Friday is a necessary first step to complete the health studies, which are expected to be released during the next two years.
If studies provide evidence that the polluted water is affecting the health of the exposed population, then that might help qualify people for medical assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also might aid those who have filed suit against the government.
Former Marine drill instructor Jerry Ensminger, whose 9-year-old daughter died in 1985 of leukemia he thinks was linked to Lejeune water, said these studies may also lead Congress to provide more help to the victims of the pollution.
The studies also can be used by people exposed to these same carcinogens in industries and in places completely unrelated to Camp Lejeune, he said.
"It will help people generations from now," Ensminger said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.