Jun 20, 2009

Lejeune water issue isn't over : Greensboro

Editorial: Lejeune water issue isn't over : : Greensboro & the Triad's most trusted source for local news and analysis

The recently released report on whether links exist between tainted drinking water at Camp Lejeune and health problems experienced by Marines and dependents living there years ago raises more questions than it answers.

According to National Research Council investigators, too much time has passed to draw accurate conclusions. Although the report didn't rule out a connection, it says spotty and incomplete data make it unlikely.

At issue is whether chemical solvents that infiltrated wells at the Jacksonville base caused sickness that showed up years later. At risk were schools, a hospital, barracks and dependent housing before the system closed 22 years ago.

More than 1,500 claims seeking $33.9 million already have been filed by ex-residents alleging a variety of health issues, including birth defects.

Further research, the report concludes, won't shed much more light and it suggested that the Department of the Navy proceed accordingly.

Yet that may not be the last word. Our state's U.S. senators, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan, are unhappy with the results.

They want answers and should be able to get them. Both serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee while Burr is the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Marines who honorably served their country, and their families, deserve closure. It's a cop-out to say all of this is just too complicated to decipher. The stakes are deceptively high, considering 1 million people may have been exposed to these toxic contaminants.

It's worth noting that relief through the courts is unlikely. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a lawsuit blaming tainted base water for an illness, saying the suspected solvents at the time weren't regulated as dangerous substances.

And the Department of Veterans Affairs has a record of denying medical benefits to Marines who believe drinking and bathing in the water made them sick.

So, a Senate hearing may be their best hope for relief. Burr and Hagan can and should make that happen.

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