Promoting Health from Camp Lejeune to Cancun

Elise Miller, MEd

Camp Lejeune sounds like a lovely place to spend a summer vacation, right? Fishing, swimming, enjoying the great outdoors. Unfortunately, for a number of US Marines and their families based at Camp Lejeune, NC, their experience has been anything but serene. The reason is not due to harsh training conditions, but to exposures to contaminants in the water. In fact, the camp was the site of what is believed to be the largest drinking water chemical contamination event in US. history. For decades, from the 1950s to the mid to late 1980s, the drinking water contained trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and other chlorinated chemicals from base activities and leaks from a civilian dry cleaning establishment adjacent to the base. Camp Lejeune was officially listed as a Superfund site in 1989. Now more than 65 cases of male breast cancer have been diagnosed of those who served and lived at Camp Lejeune – a very rare cancer that has been associated with exposures to these chemicals. In addition, a significant number of other cancers, neurological disorders, birth defects and related health conditions have been reported by the Marines and their families who lived there during those decades. We know chemical contamination and environmental injustice, as highlighted on other CHE partner calls, often go hand-in-hand. But even people who are supposed to be highly valued by our country-namely, our military veterans – are also discounted or ignored if they suggest their health problems might be linked to chemical exposures on bases in the US or in combat zones abroad. Marines with male breast cancer? Impossible? Think again.

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