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Camp Lejeune Contractor Underreported Benzene

Feb 18, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Not too long ago, we wrote that a man raised at the Camp Lejeune Marine base told lawmakers that his breast cancer resulted from contaminated base water. This was not the first time allegations were made regarding contaminated water and cancer diagnoses linked to that base.

Now, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting that an environmental contractor “dramatically underreported” the amount of benzene, a known carcinogen, found in tap water at the Camp and, worse, completely omitted its presence in information when the base was preparing for a federal health review, said the AP. Ten years prior, the Marine Corps was warned about the “dangerously high” benzene levels that originated from “massive” fuel tank leaks at the base, said the AP, citing studies and its review.

Last year, we wrote that Michael Partain (42) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and, speaking to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, pointed out that his parents were stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina when he was born. No less than 40 more U.S. Marines, or sons of Marines, who lived at the Marine base have been diagnosed with breast cancer, considered relatively rare in men, said CNN previously. Partain said that when his mother was pregnant with him, his family was subjected to high levels of tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, dichloroethylene, benzene, and vinyl chloride in Camp Lejeune’s tap water wrote CNN, previously.

Partain is not the only one. Marines have long been citing Camp Lejeune as the origin of cancer and other illnesses in their families, pointing to water contaminated by dry cleaning solvents, said the AP, adding that accusations of a military cover-up are not new.

Benzene was found in the Camp’s water in 1984 at levels indicating the concentration “far exceeds” the federal safety limit, said the AP. In 1991, as water studies were continuing, a different contractor issued another warning to the Navy about adverse health reactions known to be linked to high benzene levels. The following year, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, conducted a health risk assessment and a different—the third—contractor, the Michael Baker Corp., issued a draft feasibility report to correct the problem, reported the AP.

Among other problems, the report changed the massive finding of 380 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene found in the water to a more reasonable 38 ppb; by the time the final report was issued, mention of benzene was completely removed, said the AP. Sadly, benzene levels have worsened and testing conducted from June 2007 to August 2009 revealed benzene levels at a horrifying 3,490 ppb, said the AP, citing a fourth contractor.

A veteran enforcement officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, Kyla Bennett, who was later an ecologist and environmental attorney, looked at the various reports and concluded that it was not easy to believe that so-called “innocent mistakes” occurred in the documents submitted by Baker Corp. “It is weird that it went from 380 to 38 and then it disappeared entirely,” she said. “It does support the contention that they did do it deliberately,” quoted the AP.


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