I’m one of the nearly 151,000-plus Marines and dependents who between 1957 and 1987 was exposed to, among other carcinogens, benzene, a cancer-causing chemical found in tap water at Camp Lejeune and now registered with the Camp Lejeune Clean Water study.

Here’s a number for readers to chew on: 151,000. By itself, it’s rather inconsequential. It could be the number of miles Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has on his truck. Perhaps even an oddball winning lottery number. But this is one lottery you don’t want to win.


I did. I’m one of the nearly 151,000-plus Marines and dependents who between 1957 and 1987 was exposed to, among other carcinogens, benzene, a cancer-causing chemical found in tap water at Camp Lejeune and now registered with the Camp Lejeune Clean Water study.


The other contaminants include high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride and a host of others too numerous to address in this space.


The simple task of drinking a glass of water during that 30-year span was the equivalent of picking your poison and desired outcome.


A small sample of the illnesses being experienced by the victims of what was essentially a sometimes lethal dose of water as provided by the Web site, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, operated by a group of dedicated men and women who are demanding answers, medical care and compensation for the victims:


“Had one child born with cancer of the eye and another child born with many birth defects including cleft lip and palate”; “Skin disorders/rashes, learning disabilities, birth defects, male breast cancer”; “Birth defects, learning disabilities, DiGeorge Syndrome, VCFS (Velocardiofacial syndrome), dental issues.” These are samples from just three individuals registered with TFTPTF Web site. Here’s a fourth sample: dental issues and depression. Those are mine. That probably explains the pumpkin patch job I’m offered each October.


Mike Partain of Tallahassee, Fla., is an active community member of TFTPTF. He was born at Camp Lejeune. Nearly three years ago, he was diagnosed with male breast cancer – one of 55 men who lived at Lejeune during that 30-year period to be diagnosed with the disease.


He underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy. Thus far the cancer has not returned. Call him lucky.


“I was getting the contaminated water,” Partain said.


As if to help his point strike home, he compared the Camp Lejeune case to Woburn, which was eventually declared a Superfund site by the federal government after several companies were sued for disposing TCE and PCE into water wells.


“This stuff is associated occupationally with high blood pressure, diabetes, liver damage and kidney damage,” Partain said. “We were living with this stuff, drinking it, bathing in it and cooking with it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Among the diseases experienced by those who lived at Lejeune, he said, are liver cancer, bladder cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, breast cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.


According to Partain, the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy was threatening to shut the investigation down and deny all claims after a study by the National Research Council, a part of the National Academies of Science, which said in a report on June 13, 2009, that the link between the contaminated water and thousands of illnesses suffered by those who lived on post could not be established.


What they did not say, as reported by the St. Petersburg Times last fall, was that the Marine Corps had negotiated a $600,000 contract with the NRC before the report was released.


Fortunately, North Carolina senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan stepped in, inserting an amendment into the defense appropriations bill last year, preventing the Marines and Navy Department from adjudicating any claims until studies are completed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).


Partain said the case is in now in the hands of the politicians on Capitol Hill.


“We’re fighting the institution of honor and integrity. Everyone believed the Corps,” he said. “Now we’re seeing documents that prove the Corps hasn’t been honest. Congress has to be the one to force these people to be up front.


“I got a disease that was extremely rare for men and I had no history of cancer. I want answers. I want the truth of what happened to us. If this is the cause of it, they should take care of these people. Cancer is not a poor man’s disease. If you get cancer and don’t have access to medical care, you’re done."


Congressman Brad Miller, D-N.C. introduced the Janey Ensminger Act earlier this month. The bill, if passed, would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care to veterans and dependents with medical issues related to exposure to the toxins in the water.


The bill is named for Janey Ensminger, who died from childhood Leukemia in 1985 at the age of nine after being exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune while still in her mother’s womb.


Partain said there is precedent for health care to be provided by the VA.


But it’s a very narrow precedent, said Brooks Tucker, who serves on Burr’s staff on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.


According to Tucker, the VA cares for dependents of veterans who have Spina bifida resulting from exposure to Agent Orange.


Burr’s bill, S. 1518, is similar to the House bill. Tucker said the Senate bill was eclipsed by a proposal by Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs, which would require health care be provided by the Department of Defense.


But, said Tucker, there is no precedent requiring DOD to take care of dependents.


As a disabled veteran, I believe the VA should be reserved for veterans. As a human being, rules be damned. The government should be caring for all those affected as a result of ineptitude and deceit.


Bruce Coulter is editor of the Burlington (Mass.) Union and a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at 978-371-5775, or by e-mail at bcoulter@cnc.com.