The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

May 19, 2013

Victims: Marines didn’t safeguard supply

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — A simple test could have alerted officials that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated, long before authorities determined that as many as a million Marines and their families were exposed to a witch’s brew of cancer-causing chemicals.

But no one responsible for the lab at the base can recall that the procedure — mandated by the Navy — was ever conducted.

The U.S. Marine Corps maintains that the carbon chloroform extract (CCE) test would not have uncovered the carcinogens that fouled the southeastern North Carolina base’s water system from at least the mid-1950s until wells were capped in the mid-1980s. But experts say even this “relatively primitive” test — required by Navy health directives as early as 1963 — would have told officials that something was terribly wrong beneath Lejeune’s sandy soil.

A just-released study from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry cited a February 1985 level for trichloroethylene of 18,900 parts per billion in one Lejeune drinking water well — nearly 4,000 times today’s maximum allowed limit of 5 ppb. Given those kinds of numbers, environmental engineer Marco Kaltofen said even a testing method as inadequate as CCE should have raised some red flags with a “careful analyst.”

“That’s knock-your-socks-off level — even back then,” said Kaltofen, who worked on the Love Canal case in upstate New York, where drums of buried chemical waste leaked toxins into a local water system. “You could have smelled it.”

Biochemist Michael Hargett agrees that CCE, while imperfect, would have been enough to prompt more specific testing in what is now recognized as the worst documented case of drinking-water contamination in the nation’s history.

“I consider it disingenuous of the Corps to say, ‘Well, it wouldn’t have meant anything,”’ said Hargett, co-owner of the private lab that tried to sound the alarm about the contamination in 1982. “The levels of chlorinated solvent that we discovered ... they would have gotten something that said, ‘Whoops. I’ve got a problem.’ They didn’t do that.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Nation/World
  • Rebels release train with bodies from jet

    HRABOVE, Ukraine — Bowing to international pressure, pro-Moscow separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane, four days after it plunged into rebel-held eastern ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Gaza death toll passes 560

    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A high-level attempt by the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state to end deadly Israel-Hamas fighting was off to a rough start Monday: Gaza’s Hamas rulers signaled they won’t agree to an unconditional ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Perry sending Guard troops to border

    AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Rick Perry is deploying up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border over the next month to combat what he said Monday were criminals exploiting a surge of children pouring into the U.S. illegally. ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Better weather to aid in fire fight

    SPOKANE, Wash. — Calmer winds and cooler temperatures were allowing firefighters to go on the offensive Monday against a destructive wildfire that has charred hundreds of square miles of terrain in Washington State and is the largest in ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Gay, transgender workers gain U.S. bias protection

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday ordered employment protection for gay and transgender employees who work for the federal government or for companies holding federal contracts, telling advocates he embraced the “irrefutable ...

    July 22, 2014

  • Senate race zeroes in on metro Atlanta, north Ga.

    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Neither Republican running in Georgia’s closely watched Senate race has a natural advantage in metro Atlanta, where the state’s most populous area and a ring of northern exurbs are serving as the key battleground ...

    July 21, 2014

  • How a flood of kids upset immigration debate

    WASHINGTON — The nation’s yearlong deliberation over immigration has taken a head-snapping detour....

    July 21, 2014

  • Kerry makes bid for cease-fire

    WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is heading back to the Middle East as the Obama administration attempts to bolster regional efforts to reach a ceasefire and sharpens its criticism of Hamas in its conflict with Israel....

    July 21, 2014

  • U.S. outlines case against Russia on downed plane

    WASHINGTON — Video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site. Imagery showing the firing. Calls claiming credit for the strike. Recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site....

    July 21, 2014

  • Top school may benefit health

    CHICAGO — Disadvantaged teens may get more than an academic boost by attending top-notch high schools — their health may also benefit, a study suggests. Risky health behavior including binge-drinking, unsafe sex and use of hard drugs was ...

    July 21, 2014