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ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Marine Corps failed to recognized the potentially serious health risks of the contaminated drinking water and did not adequately inform its residents at the Camp Lejeune, N.C., base who consumed it, according to a report from the independent panel convened by the Commandant to analyze the debacle.

Officials discovered the toxic chemicals in the early 1980s in the drinking water, particularly in supply that provided water to the two housing complexes of Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace.

The panel, appointed in February by Gen. Michael W. Hagee, criticized the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic Division, those who tested the water, as being “not aggressive in providing Camp Lejeune with information and expertise to help the base understand the significance of the contamination and how it could have been addressed,” the report reads.

“Inadequate funding, staffing and training of Camp Lejeune’s Environmental Division, combined with its compliance-based approach to regulations, contributed to a lack of understanding about the potential significance of the first indications of contamination and subsequent test data in the early 1980s.”

However, the panel concluded that base officials acted responsibly, the report states, and the water testers and base officials aren’t the only ones at fault, the three-member panel concluded.

“Factors that appear to have hindered Camp Lejeune from quickly recognizing the significance of contamination from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include: the absence of regulatory standards; no records of water quality complaints from base residents; water sampling errors; and inconsistent sampling results.”

The panel was headed by Ronald Packard, who served as a California representative in Congress from 1983 to 2000. Other panelists included retired Marine Corps Gen. Richard Hearney, assistant commandant from 1994 to 1996; Robert Pirie Jr., assistant Navy secretary for Installations and Environment from 1994 to 2000; Jerome Gilbert, a water expert and former executive officer of the California State Water Resources and Control Board; and Robert Tardiff, a toxicology and environmental expert.

In May 1982, scientists found the presence of degreaser tricholoroethylene, or TCE, and the dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, in the drinking water at Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point. The wells were not shut down until three years later. Eventually, the source of the contamination was traced to a commercial drycleaners near the main gate and a vehicle maintenance and body shop on the base.

In July, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released preliminary results of a health survey of 12,598 children born to women who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1968 to 1985 that revealed 103 of the children suffered childhood cancers or birth defects.

The panel recommended the Corps upgrade environmental and risk communications training for base leadership and staffs, and make public the panel’s findings, which it did.

It also recommended the ATSDR expedite its epidemiological study of possible health effects from contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune.

For the next 30 days, the Marine Corps seeks public comment on the Panel’s report. Those interested can write to the Drinking Water Fact-Finding Panel for Camp Lejeune, 1530 Wilson Blvd., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22209; or e-mail clsurvey@hqmc.usmc.mil

The full report will be available on the Internet at the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune Web site: http://www.usmc.mil/camplejeune/clbwatersurveyinfo.nsf/.

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