The MCA BlogConnecting with others one story at a time
A group of adult men have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and some have just months to live. You have to ask – how did this happen? Less than 1,900 men in our country will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, compared to over 200,000 women. None of these men had a family history of breast cancer, so their cancer must be attributed to an external factor, right? What did these men have in common?
All twenty lived or worked at Camp Lejeuene in North Carolina between the 1960s and the late 1980s.
Their stories were recently chronicled on CNN – an excellent video entitled POISONED PATRIOTS? was shown on the Campbell Brown show on CNN and is still available for viewing on the CNN website.
All of the men profiled strongly believe that their breast cancer is a result of contaminated drinking water on Camp Lejeuene. Government records state that the drinking water on the United States Marine Corps base was in fact contaminated for about three decades, with a number of different toxins.
In 1980, tests proved that Camp Lejeuene’s drinking water was “highly contaminated,” and between 1984 and 1985, several wells on base were removed and replaced due to the presence of highly toxic pollutants. Chemicals including trichloroethylene [a degreaser], benzene, and perchloroethylene [used in dry cleaning] were all found in the base’s water system.
According to the USMC, two separate, independent studies report that there is no connection between drinking contaminated water and eventual illness. The former residents of Camp Lejeuene find this a bit difficult to stomach.
Jim Fontella, a veteran who worked on the base from 1966 until 1967, said “I mean, there has to be a link somehow. That’s literally unheard of to have 20 men come from the same place…drinking the same water. And they’re [the USMC] saying that it couldn’t’ happen.”
A native of Detroit, Mr. Fontella bravely served our country in Vietnam. He was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, and underwent surgery. Despite surgical attempts to remove his cancer, it spread to his spine and back. Before his diagnosis, Mr. Fontella was unaware that men could even develop breast cancer. It is safe to say that many men nationwide are of the same frame of mind.
Mr. Fontella said that he “kind of manned up to it after awhile and expected to die.”
“Luckily, I have already passed my due date by five years,” Mr. Fontella told a CNN reporter. He was one of seven men who agreed to speak with CNN about their breast cancer.
Another gentleman named Peter Devereaux was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. He worked at Camp Lejeuene from 1981 until 1982, and his cancer has already spread to his ribs, hip, and spine. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer.
“The average life expectancy is 2 to 3 years,” Mr. Devereaux told the CNN reporter. He apologized after choking up as he spoke. Can you blame him?
“Now I’m considered disabled because I can no longer work,” he said.
USMC Reports estimate that up to 500,000 people were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeuene over a thirty-year period. However, a written statement from the USMC to CNN news states that there is no conclusive connection between the contaminated drinking water and the high numbers of male breast cancer in former Lejeuene residents and workers.
“To date, these studies have not identified a link between exposure to the historically impacted water at Camp Lejeuene and adverse health effects,” the report said.
The report goes on to state that the contamination on Camp Lejeuene did not violate the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, areas of the base are on the EPA Superfund List [which names contaminated sites nationwide].
When it comes to the contaminants found in Lejeuene’s water, the facts are scary: benzene has been recognized as a carcinogen [a cancer-causing agent] by the federal government, and both trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene are listed as having the potential to cause cancer.
Despite reluctance on the part of the Marine Corps, some researchers state that there is a strong connection between the contaminated drinking water and the development of metastatic breast cancer in these particular men. Frank Bove, an epidemiologist at the federal government’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, told CNN that the levels of toxins in Lejeuene’s water “were the highest I’ve ever seen in a public water system in this country.”
While Mr. Bove is shocked at the levels of pollution in the base’s water, he admits that he is unsure whether or not drinking the water would cause cancer or other illnesses later in life.
Sadly, these twenty men cannot receive treatment from the Veterans Administration, as there is no proof that the contaminated water on Camp Lejeuene caused their cancer [in order to receive treatment from the VA, a vet’s disease must be “service-related”].
“The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten” – a name that these men have given themselves – are not the only individuals suffering from a fatal disease that is most likely service-related. Countless veterans suffering from mesothelioma cancer, a deadly illness cause by previous exposure to asbestos, find themselves denied treatment from the VA because it may be impossible to determine whether or not they were truly exposed to asbestos during their time in the service, despite the fact that veteran asbestos exposure is not a new issue.
Like metastatic breast cancer, mesothelioma can take decades to develop. By the time of diagnosis, it is often impossible to determine where a patient was actually exposed to asbestos [or any other carcinogen, such as benzene or perchloroethylene, for that matter], but a great number of veterans recall working with asbestos on board naval ships or while working on base.
Many of the vets I’ve spoken to tell me that asbestos used to come down like snow when they would repair insulation or other materials. Hardly any of these men were given safety equipment, such as a mask or gloves. Many transferred asbestos fibers home on their work clothes and may have exposed their family members [in recent years, the number of women diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer as a result of second-hand asbestos exposure has increased greatly].
I think that veteran Rick Kelly, one of the men who is battling breast cancer, sums up the frustration felt by sickened veterans:
“How could they do this to me after I served the country faithfully? How could they do this to my fellow Marines?”
Resources for Mesothelioma Patients and their Families
- Request a Free Mesothelioma Treatment Guide
- Connect with Top Mesothelioma Doctors
- Locate the Nearest Comprehensive Cancer Center