BIRMINGHAM (CN) – A retired U.S. Marine says the contaminated water supply at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina caused his son’s incurable brain tumor and the death of his daughter from brain cancer. His federal lawsuit accuses the United States of allowing Marines and their families to unwittingly drink and bathe in polluted and potentially poisonous water for 30 years.
John Edwards and his wife, Connie, say the contamination most likely originated from leaking underground fuel tanks that were secretly disposed of within the base.
The Alabama natives spent three years, from 1985 to 1988, at Camp Lejeune, the source of numerous reports of unusual levels of leukemia, male breast cancer and other cancers, still births and birth defects among former residents, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Scientists have associated many of the chemicals found in the base’s water supply with cancer and a variety of other health problems, the Edwardses claim.
Among the chemicals detected were benzene and vinyl chloride, both of which are classified as “known human carcinogens,” the lawsuit states. Tests also revealed contimation by tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene and dicloroethylene.
The Edwardses say a House committee has begun investigating the history of Camp Lejeune and how exposure to the chemicals affects the health of Marines and their families.
The Committee on Science and Technology allegedly learned of a contractor who told Marine Corps officials in 1985 that the base’s wells contained a number of volatile organic compounds, including extremely high levels of benzene.
The committee determined the contamination most likely came from a “leaking fuel tank farm” located within the base, the lawsuit states.
Four years earlier, government officials checked the water supply for trihalomethane, but ran into unexpected trouble. The subsequent report “alerted the base command that the water was so highly contaminated with other chemicals that the values of the trihalomethane could not even be determined but only estimated because of the presence of the pollution or contaminants,” according to the complaint.
Despite all the warnings, those who lived at Camp Lejeune were never told the full extent of the danger, the Edwardses claim. Instead, the command staff only went so far as to warn certain residents of “minute” or “trace” amounts of organic chemicals detected, the lawsuit states.
The United States “caused or permitted large quantities of chlorinated solvents and other contaminants to be dumped and disposed of within Camp Lejeune property surreptitiously and under the cover of darkness and under the guise of training exercises for firemen,” the lawsuit states.
The retired Marine and his wife also accuse the government of “negligently and recklessly permitting spills and drum disposal as well as solvent disposal practices from off-base facilities, without providing notice or warnings to consumers that they were being exposed to the dangerous and or potentially poisonous substances that the defendant knew or should have known were leeching into the aforementioned water supply system.”
For 30 years, from at least 1957 through 1987, the level of toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune was found to be hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of times greater than levels considered safe for humans, the lawsuit claims.
“Defendant knew or should have known that providing water with contaminants, including chlorinated solvents, regardless of the source, would likely cause a variety of health problems, including but not limited to cancers, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system disturbance in humans, disfigurement, pain, suffering and possibly death to the people to whom defendant provided said water system,” the parents claim.
They say their daughter, Jennifer, developed brain cancer and died from the chemical exposure, and their son, Lee, 30, suffers from an incurable brain tumor known as astrocytoma.
Edwards and his wife are suing under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
They are represented by E. Allen Dodd with Scruggs, Dodd & Dodd in Fort Payne, Ala.