Camp Lejeune Health Care Huge Step Forward


 Congressional compromise recognizes Marine Corps’ responsibility for contaminated water wells and health effects of toxic exposure.


by Robert O’Dowd


(SALEM, OR) – The Senate passed Honoring America’s Veteran’s and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. It’s a huge step forward but hold off on breaking out the champagne.

This bill is a compromise and like all compromises, not everyone will be satisfied with what they see. It will be passed into law. DOD can’t be happy with the bill.

Too many military installations are contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), a deadly carcinogen. Will other veterans press Congress for health care compensation for exposures to TCE?

Twenty-five years after the contaminated wells were shut down, the Senate approved health care for Camp Lejeune veterans and their dependents. The House is expected to vote their approval shortly.

Retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger took the point in pushing Congress to pass this legislation. Whether you agree with him or not, nothing would have been done by Congress without his and other veterans’ and dependents’ testimonies for health care legislation.

It’s painfully obvious that the Marine Corps wanted nothing to do with health care for Camp Lejeune veterans and their dependents. The documentation on the contaminated wells was not destroyed or ‘lost’ and the testimonies from Lejeune veterans, dependents, and scientists supported the toxicity of the wells and their adverse health effects.

In the end, Congress did the right thing, despite the public relations response from the Corps to a public health tragedy.

The House vote is expected on July 31st, according to Jerry Ensminger. The President should sign this bill into law without hesitation.

Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps’ motto, was tarnished by the Corps refusal to support its veterans and their dependents; many of them sick with deadly cancers. How many died from lack of health care?

This bill is a ‘weak sister’ in comparison to the Agent Orange presumption disability law. Unlike Agent Orange presumptive disability, there is no provision for compensation to veterans and the VA is a ‘payer of last resort’ for dependents who drank, showered, and cooked with the contaminated well water and suffered miscarriages, cancers, and died like their Marine husbands and fathers.

What happens to the tort claims filed by Lejeune dependents and civilian employees gathering dust in the Navy’s JAG office?  The Navy JAG reported that the administrative claims will not be adjudicated until the conclusion of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)’s ongoing scientific studies.

In 2011, the Navy JAG reported that since the year 2000 over 2700 administrative claims have been filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, seeking in excess of $54.9 billion pertaining to the groundwater contamination at Camp Lejeune. 

Of course, a claimant can always file  suite in District court, but that requires legal counsel and expensive legal fees. Despite the inherent obstacles in suing the federal government, several suites have been filed but no winners.

The unanswered question will be the implementation of the law by the VA. Will a hostile VA play hard ball with veterans and their dependents? Looking for occupational exposures after military service to exclude health care coverage? No comments from the VA, Marine Corps or Navy on the bill in the press.

Did DOD push the Corps to resist accepting responsibility for the contaminated wells? With 130 military installations on the NPL, DOD is by far the biggest environmental polluter in the country. And, TCE is on many of these installations.


MCAS El Toro, California, the Marine Corps premier jet fighter base until closed in July 1999, is one of the installations contaminated with TCE. Unlike Camp Lejeune, much of the documentation on El Toro’s wells is lost. The TCE cut a path right through the base wells, but the Navy’s response is they purchased municipal water in 1951 and the wells were abandoned. Not so fast.

The evidence shows that the initial purchase of softened municipal water from The Metropolitan Water District was not enough to allow the Marine Corps to abandon wells that were then less than 10 years old. It may have been done to reduce the levels of corrosive salts in the aquifer by blending the well water with softened municipal water. The government contract file was destroyed years ago so there’s nothing supporting the rational for  purchasing municipal water in water scarce Southern California.

A follow-on municipal water services contract with the Irvine Ranch Water District in 1969 provided enough water for the Corps to walk away from the base wells. But, a 1975 engineering drawing showed the water distribution system connected to base wells. No other details were available and part of the engineering drawing is redacted. Forget about going to Congress with this news.

The reality is that over 40 years of missing water distribution engineering drawings at El Toro make it almost impossible to determine when the wells were abandoned. The original well construction drawings showing the locations of the well screen intervals—the point that water and contaminants enter water well are lost. By 1986, the existing water distribution engineering drawings show only one agricultural well in production.

In 1998, a Navy engineer asked a consulting engineer to locate the well screen before sealing the well with concrete. The video taken by the contractor showed that more than 40 feet of the well screen was opened in the contaminated aquifer. All of the wells in the TCE plume were constructed during WW II.  Did all of the base wells follow the same construction pattern with some portion of their well screens in the contaminated aquifer? No more inspections were done to locate well screens. All of the base wells were sealed in concrete.


The environmental contamination of TCE in the military and many communities in the country is huge, threatening local water supplies.

The Air Force admitted that 1,400 sites military sites were contaminated with TCE in 2003. Ralph Vartabedian of The LA Times covered the story in a March 29, 2006 news series, “How Environmentalists Lost the Battle Over TCE”. Vartabedian reported that:

An internal Air Force report issued in 2003 warned that the Pentagon alone has 1,400 sites contaminated with TCE. 

Among those, at least 46 have involved large-scale contamination or significant exposure to humans at military bases, according to a list compiled by the Natural Resources New Service, an environmental group based in Washington. 

The Air Force was convinced that the EPA would toughen its allowable limit of TCE in drinking water of 5 parts per billion by at least fivefold. The service was already spending $5 billion a year to clean up TCE at its bases and tougher standards would drive that up by another $1.5 billion, according to an Air Force document. Some outside experts said that estimate was probably low. 

After the EPA issued the draft assessment, the Pentagon, Energy Department and NASA appealed their case directly to the White House. TCE has also contaminated 23 sites in the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons complex — including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, and NASA centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. 

The agencies argued that the EPA had produced junk science, its assumptions were badly flawed and that evidence exonerating TCE was ignored. They argued that the EPA could not be trusted to move ahead on its own and that top leaders in the agency did not have control of their own bureaucracy.



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Robert O’Dowd served in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings during 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. While at MCAS El Toro for two years, O'Dowd worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated work space in Hangar 296 in MWSG-37, the most industrialized and contaminated acreage on the base. Robert is a two time cancer survivor and disabled veteran. Robert graduated from Temple University in 1973 with a bachelor’s of business administration, majoring in accounting, and worked with a number of federal agencies, including the EPA Office of Inspector General and the Defense Logistics Agency. After retiring from the Department of Defense, he teamed up with Tim King of to write about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps bases (MCAS El Toro and MCB Camp Lejeune), the use of El Toro to ship weapons to the Contras and cocaine into the US on CIA proprietary aircraft, and the murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and others who were a threat to blow the whistle on the illegal narcotrafficking activity. O'Dowd and King co-authored BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-Up. The book is available as a soft cover copy and eBook from See: