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Lawmakers want Marine Corps investigated for withholding Camp Lejeune water pollution records

Published Apr. 13, 2012

A group of lawmakers, including Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, this week asked the Pentagon to investigate allegations the Marine Corps and Navy have concealed information about water pollution at Camp Lejeune from regulators and the public.

More than 17,000 Floridians may have been exposed to highly contaminated drinking water at the Marine Corps base in North Carolina before 1987, Corps figures show.

The Corps has requested in recent months that the federal agency studying contamination at the base redact portions of a public report showing the location of active water wells and water systems at Lejeune. The Corps says releasing that information poses a security risk.

Critics of the Corps argue that withholding such information makes it impossible for other scientists to evaluate the report. They say it is an attempt to hinder work that may prove the Corps and Navy culpable in poisoning veterans.

"Some of our offices have received information indicating that the (Navy) and (Corps) have used (public records) exemptions to justify the withholding of key information contained in many of these documents from the public without adequate legal justification," the lawmakers said in a letter to the Pentagon's inspector general.

"We want to ensure the reports provided to the public have not, and will not, omit critical information that would aid future scientific inquiry and most importantly, cause the public to doubt the transparency and integrity of this inter-agency process," the letter signed by six senators and three representatives said.

The letter was signed by Rubio, a Republican, and Nelson, a Democrat; Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; and U.S. Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Brad Miller, D-N.C.

So far, the inspector general has not said if it will investigate.

The Corps said it has withheld nothing from the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, which is leading efforts to research the water contamination and its health effects.

ATSDR scientists are currently working on a water model that will help determine the level of contaminants throughout Lejeune going back decades. In January, a technical report supporting that work was released and was redacted at the Navy and Marine Corps' request.

"We support (ATSDR) and have given them full access to our data so they can seek science-based answers for our former residents and workers," said Capt. Kendra Hardesty, a Corps spokeswoman. "Secrecy would be counterproductive to this mission."

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administrator of ATSDR, told lawmakers earlier this year that ATSDR did not have the expertise to determine if the redactions are necessary, so it agreed to withhold the locations of the water system infrastructure.

He said location information was "scientifically unnecessary."

But the scientist hired by ATSDR to help produce the report took the rare step of criticizing Frieden in a letter to ATSDR's director, saying Frieden's statement about scientific necessity "is patently false and … borders on the inane and silly."

The scientist, Robert Faye, said the redactions "do indeed substantially compromise the technical and scientific integrity" of the report.

An ATSDR spokeswoman said in a statement, "ATSDR has received all information necessary for completing" its Lejeune work. "Our science has not been compromised."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

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