ROANOKE, Va. — Advocates pushing for answers about water contamination at Camp Lejeune have taken their documents on the road, and they're headed to Charlotte.
Mike Partain, a breast cancer survivor from Florida, and Jerry Ensminger, a retired master sergeant in White Lake whose daughter died in 1985 of childhood leukemia, have held three informational gatherings in the Southeast.
The men want to bring together Marine veterans and family members who might have been exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune from the mid-'50s to the mid-'80s.
"Our biggest problem is we don't know who each other are," Partain said last weekend to listeners at a meeting in Roanoke, Va. "We've got to network out."
The next meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in Virginia Beach, Va. Another is July 31 in Charlotte.
In a chilly meeting room last weekend in Roanoke, Va., Partain, the son of a Marine, posted on a wall maps of groundwater contamination plumes at Camp Lejeune
"This sample?" Partain said, circling a number with a laser pointer: 1,400 parts per billion of trichloroethylene, or TCE, found in a water sample in 1982. "This came out of a hospital emergency room sink."
"Oh my God," came a male voice from a small audience of Marine veterans and their families.
"I was bathed in it," said another male voice.
Added a woman: "They made formula out of that water."
The Blue Ridge Mountains outside the windows Saturday seemed a world away from the coastal sands of Camp Lejeune but the veterans easily summoned memories of the base. They came with stories of cancers, heart ailments and other diseases, trying to learn whether illnesses could be connected to the toxic water.
"I was there 13 years," said Curt Overington, who grew up at Lejeune. "I lost a brother. One brother was born without organs." One was born with a cleft lip.
Francis Rogers of Christiansburg, Va., served at the base from 1957 to 1962, and his youngest son served at Lejeune in the 1980s.
"He has breathing problems," Rogers said of his son. "I have skin problems."
Rogers learned of the meeting from a newspaper advertisement and didn't know what to expect. "My eyes were opened up," he said.
The community meetings come as Congress investigates the water contamination, its causes and health effects. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - is conducting studies to better understand the type and extent of the contamination and its effect on former residents.
The Marines say the water at Lejeune today is safe to drink, and the military says it is working to find answers for Marines and their families. The military was required by law to contact Marine veterans through the Internal Revenue Service, and it has run ads about the contamination in magazines.
Until recently, much of the contamination was blamed on an off-base dry cleaner.
Military documents show that the base's water was contaminated with benzene; TCE; tetrachloroethylene, known as PCE; vinyl chloride, and other chemicals - much of it leaked from on-base sources. Benzene and vinyl chloride cause cancer in humans; TCE is under study for the same designation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Partain and Ensminger say the military has not been forthcoming about details of the contamination.
Ensminger has lobbied Congress and the media about the contamination for 12 years, since he saw a news story in Elizabethtown about toxic water at the base. He connected the water to the leukemia that killed his daughter, Janey. He said former residents should join the Camp Lejeune historic drinking water registry so they can get involved in scientific studies on the matter.
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