We live in a country where we don’t think twice about going to the sink and pouring a cold glass of water from the faucet. Well, maybe we should, or at least we should have. It turns out that the water that many of us drank and bathed in was contaminated with trichloroethyoene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), Vinyl Choride, and Benzene. The two drinking water sources that were found to be contaminated were the wells serving Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point. It is estimated that the contamination lasted from 1953-2009 (National Research Council (US) Committee on Contaminated Drinking Water at Camp Lejeune, 2009). The contamination was discovered in 1980, however the well remained in use until 1985 leading to 5 more years of exposure.
How did this happen?
It has been reported that the contamination was caused from the waste disposal practices of ABC One-Hour Cleaners. ABC One-Hour Cleaners, a small family owned dry cleaning business, was located at 2127 Lejeune Boulevard. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.) the facility was improperly disposing of chemicals as follows by “burying the solid PCE around the site and beneath the septic tank, pouring the liquid PCE directly into the septic tank” which led to “buried PCE filtering through the soil into the underground” (para. 2).
Even though this occurred so long ago and the wells that were found to be highly contaminated were removed from service, the impact is still being felt. First, the soil is still not toxin free. The PCE that is still found in the soil is causing vapor intrusion concerns for occupied commercial buildings located near the site. Because of these continued concerns the soil cleanup efforts began in September of last year and should be finished by October, 2019. In the fall of 2019 the areas where source material was buried and disposed of will be excavated, and in the winter of 2020 soil cleanup efforts using in-situ thermal remediation will start (Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.).
The biggest impact has been felt by people, including many Beirut Veterans and their families, who lived in these areas during the time of the contamination. The qualifying health conditions that have been scientifically and medically linked to the contamination thus far are: bladder cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, female infertility, hepatic steatosis, kidney cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, miscarriage, multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, neurobehavioral effects, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal toxicity, and scleroderma. The conditions that qualify veterans for disability are: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease. For more information about Veteran health and disability benefits related to the contaminated water click here.
One Beirut Vets story
Rick Coburn Jr. is a lifetime BVA member. He enlisted in the USMC on December 13, 1980 and served until he was honorably discharged as a Sergeant on October 6, 1989. He served in Beirut from October 29, 1982 to February 14, 1983. He was with 3rd Plt. Charlie Co. 2nd CEB attached to BLT 3/8 at the BLT Barracks.
Rick was stationed at Camp Lejeune for almost 5 years from March 1981 to November 1985. He lived in the old H style barracks on the 2nd street around the Circle by Holcomb Blvd. and moved into the newer dorm style barracks across from Swoop Circle in 1985.
Rick was diagnosed with both Kidney and Ureter Cancer in February 2017 when undergoing a colon resection after the VA perforated his colon during a routine Colonoscopy. His surgeons removed his left kidney and ureter along with his appendix and 12" of his sigmoid colon. This likely saved his life. Little did he know that this was caused from being exposed to chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune. About 8 months later Rick was diagnosed with bladder cancer as numerous tumors were found on his bladder. He has undergone several surgeries to remove the tumors and is currently undergoing BCG treatments to help shrink the tumor and slow the progression of the cancer. He also had a part of his right kidney removed in December 2018 , has Type 2 Diabetes, and has Stage 3 B chronic kidney disease.
Both kidney and bladder cancer are on the CLTW presumptive list. Rick states, “Thanks to two of my Beirut Brothers, Jon Warmeling and Jeff Handy, the paperwork was initiated while I was in the hospital recuperating and with Jon's tireless work my claims were documented with the VA along with Nexus letters from my Urologist confirmation”. All of Rick’s surgeries, treatments, tests, and medications are covered at 100%. He is receiving most of his care outside the VA.
Rick reports that at fist he was very angry and negative that he was going through this ordeal but states that, “the last couple of years I have realized that I am one of the lucky ones to have survived thus far thanks to some very good nurses and doctors, but also my family and some friends, most of whom are my Marine Brothers and Sisters who have helped me stay positive and not take life for granted”. Rick says he still has some hills to climb but “we will win this battle”.
Rick believes that people at the top knew this was going on and no one reported anything, either through ignorance or “they just didn’t give a damn”. He finds it hard to believe that Marines who knew about this illegal dumping said nothing about it to their fellow Marines. He said this is not aligned with the Marine Brotherhood that he came to know and love. He feels that all persons, military and civilian, who were at Camp Lejeune during the specified time who have illnesses should be treated and compensated if deemed to be caused by exposure to the water. Rick says, “it seems the VA has limited the scope to mainly certain organ cancers and this needs to be rectified”.
Rick says that knowing what he knows now, he would do it all over again in a heartbeat. “There is no other fraternity like the Marine Corps Brotherhood anywhere. The camaraderie I found in the Corps extends today some almost 39 years after stepping onto those yellow footprints at MCRDSD and the pride we share in being the Few, the Proud, just a little older, and wiser. Not as lean, Still as mean!” states Rick.
In conclusion, Rick’s hope is that we help spread the word about the conditions that a lot of people served under while stationed at Camp Lejeune. Rick recommends that everyone who lived there register on the Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Registry and enroll at your local VA as a Camp Lejeune Service Member. In closing Rick says, “Semper Fi to all and to my Beirut Brothers, never forget!”
It is highly recommended that any veteran filing a claim with the Department of Veterans' Affairs use a highly qualified, well trained and accredited Veterans Service Officer (VSO). The VA maintains a list of accredited VSOs at: https://www.va.gov/vso/ These include The American Legion, Disabled Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America and many, many others. Don't forget to file for ALL possible conditions you still suffer from as a result of your service, such as ringing in the ears (Tinnitus), hearing loss, PTSD, arthritis from an old service injury, etc.
Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.) ABC One hour Cleaners Jacksonville, NC. Retrieved from https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.Cleanup&id=0402718#bkground
National Research Council (US) Committee on Contaminated Drinking Water at Camp Lejeune. (2009). Contaminated water supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing potential health effects.Washington DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25009942