WASHINGTON — Five members of Congress on Friday called the Department of the Navy to task — again — for what they say is an apparent resistance to keeping veterans informed about past water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
In a tartly written letter to the Navy, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr and Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina, and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan said the military continues to mislead the public about a high-profile scientific report on the contamination.
They said that the Navy hasn't yet agreed to a deal that would allow federal scientists to review its public relations material.
And, they said, the Navy appears reluctant to lead veterans and their family members to recent, updated science about the contamination.
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"We would like to bring to your attention several issues that call into question (the Department of the Navy's) and (the Marine Corps') commitment to transparency and veracity in efforts to keep the public informed of ongoing developments related to Camp Lejeune's historic contaminated drinking water," the members of Congress wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
The letter is the latest missive in an ongoing bureaucratic battle among military leaders, federal scientists, and veterans and their advocates in Congress.
At stake are ongoing scientific studies that could determine just how, and how badly, several contaminants might have affected the health of people who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune until the 1980s.
The letter raises four issues:
- The lawmakers said the Navy has continuously mischaracterized a 2009 report by the National Academy of the Sciences' National Research Council. The NRC report found no concrete link between the chemicals trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene and a host of ailments suffered by veterans and family members. The report has been criticized by other scientists.
The lawmakers said the Navy has indicated that the NRC did assess benzene, but that isn't true. The report didn't include a comprehensive study on benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical that was a significant contaminant in the water.
The lawmakers asked the Navy to correct the information and send a letter to more than 160,000 people who have signed up to receive information about the contamination.
- The lawmakers said the Navy has not agreed to a communications protocol with federal scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The ATSDR has spent years studying the contamination and is trying to figure out its potential health impacts. The deal would have the Navy run all of its public relations material past ATSDR for scientific accuracy, but the military hasn't signed on yet.
The letter asked the Navy to retract an inaccurate booklet on the contamination from its website and to sign the agreement by the end of this month.
- The lawmakers said the Marine Corps website on the contamination doesn't include direct links to ATSDR's ongoing work on the issue, including reports conducted since January 2009.
- And the lawmakers oppose a military plan to survey the more than 160,000 registrants about whether they want more or less information on the contamination.
"It is inconceivable to us that Camp Lejeune registrants would want to have less information flow about a subject that concerns their health and well-being," the lawmakers said. They also worried that such a survey would conflict with work that scientists are doing to survey veterans and family members about their health.
It is estimated that a million people were exposed to contaminated drinking water at the base until poisoned wells were shut down in 1984. Many former Lejeune residents now believe that their cancers and other illnesses were caused by the chemicals.
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