Marines Exposed to Tainted Water?

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Most area men who served in the Marines were stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Now dozens of retired Marines are worried as they learn they and their families may have drank and bathed in chemically-tainted water.

John Orue left the area to join the Marines in 1968 and was stationed at Camp Lejeune for more than a year before fighting in Vietnam.

He believes his exposure to toxic chemicals later found in the base’s drinking water did him more harm than combat.

Outside his home near Carbondale, Orue hangs a Marine flag alongside the American flag with pride.

But after a decade of declining health, kidney failure, cancer and severe pain, the 60-year old retired Marine questions the corps he once served with pride.

“They asked us to do the right thing, and they’re really not doing the right thing by us at all, and that’s real disappointing,” Orue said.

Orue spent a year and a half at the Camp Lejeune Marine base before his tour of duty in Vietnam.

During that time, he lived in the Tarawa Terrace Housing Development, where the Marines now concede that for up to three decades, the drinking water was tainted with up to 70 times the accepted safe level of trichlorethylene.

The Department of the Navy, of which the Marine Corps is a part, recently called for testing on those living at Tarawa from 1957 to 1987, it told former Marines.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that “the level of (toxins) in drinking water represented a potential public health hazard. ”

“Everyone of us has something wrong, and it’s verifiable. This isn’t Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, these are actual physical illnesses,” Orue said.

It’s still unclear how many of the hundreds of thousands of Marines who lived at Tarawa are sick, and how many of those who are can ink their illnesses to tainted water.

The Marines are also, “…evaluating whether children of mothers who were exposed while pregnant to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune are at an increased risk of spina bifida, cleft palate, and childhood cancer.”

“And they can’t explain what happened to my kidney,” Orue added.

He thinks he can explain how he went from a healthy to a sick man 15 years ago. Doctors found lesions on his lungs and liver and a cancerous tumor on a kidney, which has been removed.

Orue’s doctor tentatively links his illnesses to his time at Camp Lejeune.

“It says, ‘likely as not’ that my illness is related to contaminated water at Lejeune,” the retired Marine said. “I think it is.”

“I looked at everybody in my family and nobody had any of these things, so its not hereditary,” Orue added.

The defense department notified more than 3,000 retired Marines in Pennsylvania of the potential for problems associated with tainted water.

Two comprehensive studies on the effects of the water at LeJeune are underway. The results expected in about two years.