Navy Secretary Ray Mabus outraged military veterans whose family members died from diseases related to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
Last week, Mabus made comments that discounted a link between chronic disease and service at the North Carolina Marine Corps base from the mid-1950s to 1980s.
The Shreveport Times reports that Mabus made the statement on September 14, while responding to a question from an audience member regarding the safety of the water supply on the base.
In his response, Mabus assured the man that the water has been safe to consume for almost 30 years and blamed the initial problem on an off-base dry cleaning company that was dumping solvents near two military housing areas.
Mabus also added that even though there have been “allegations that there is a higher incidence of illness with people who had gone through as Marines,” the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conducted studies that found no correlation.
Mabus’s remarks upset former military members who fought the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps to release documents related to the problem, and also lobbied for recognition of their illnesses.
According to the ASTDR reports, the population of Camp Lejeune, which includes Marines and civilians, appear to have higher rates of diseases related to exposure to compounds found in the water.
The reports also noted that the problem was related to industrial dumping and leaking storage tanks in addition to the illegal solvent dumping by the dry cleaning company.
Mike Partain, who was born at the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune in 1968 and diagnosed as an adult with breast cancer, wasn’t pleased with Mabus’s comments. He called the comments insulting, and proof that Mabus is out of touch with the problem.
“There have been several congressional hearings on this issue. Congress passed a law to help affected veterans. VA provides medical care for these problems,” Partain said. “The time for deflecting and whitewashing is over. The science is in.”
From 1953 to 1987, more than 750,000 people may have been exposed to toxic chemicals, which include tetrachloroethylene, perchloroethylene, vinyl chloride, benzene, and trichloroethylene.
The ASTDR report indicated that those living and working on the base from 1955 to 1985 have higher incidences of male breast cancer and preterm births. The report also indicated that people that lived on the base during that period have an increased risk of death from cervical, esophageal, kidney and liver cancer.