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contaminated sites make the military the nation's largest polluter
|"I feel betrayed by the
organization that I represented and that I served."
–Jerry Ensminger, former Marine Corps Master Sgt.
|A report from the Food For Thought Film
Ruth Ann Smalley
Food For Thought film, Semper Fi:
Always Faithful, was deeply disturbing, but also inspiring.
Jerry Ensminger had been a dedicated officer, devoted to the Marine
motto as he worked with thousands of recruits for nearly 25 years.
His time at Camp Lejeune overlapped with a 30 year period during which
the camp's groundwater and wells were contaminated with a variety of
dangerous chemicals. His quest to understand the death of his nine year
old daughter from leukemia led him on a grim trail of inept management,
inadequate oversight, and outright cover up.
Directed by Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon, the film exposes the scale
of the contamination's impact, including infants born with fatal
medical conditions and countless former residents with deadly cancers
and other health problems.
Blood may be thicker than water, but by water we are all connected.
Ensminger started out as a man haunted by the question of his own
family's personal loss. But he became a man fighting for the well-being
of thousands. As news of massive fuel leaks into the camp's wells came
out in the late nineteen-eighties, Ensminger began to connect the dots.
He teamed up with others who had a connection to the camp, especially
Mike Partain, who was searching for an explanation for his male breast
cancer. Mike would discover more than 70 other men with this condition,
linked to Lejeune.
The layers of suffering the film uncovers are only made bearable by the
courage of Ensminger and those who joined him in his fight to hold the
Marine Corps accountable. One of the most harrowing scenes is a public
hearing in which a room full of people testify about the deaths of
babies and the loss of their own and their family members' health. They
tell of the isolation and guilt they experienced as they underwent
these challenges, unaware that the same thing was happening to so many.
The filmmakers capture the wave of grief and anger that sweeps through
the crowd as the stories continue.
As terrible as the facts are—Benzene, Perchloroethylene,
Trichloroethylene and other highly toxic chemicals leaked from
underground storage tanks, discharged from dry cleaning services on
base, or leached from buried waste drums—Ensminger finds the Marine
officials resistant to contacting all those who might have been
exposed. There is still legislation pending that would require the
corps to help the sick with their medical costs (see http://semperfialwaysfaithful.com/take-action
to learn more and take action).
The costs are high: those exposed at Camp Lejeune have had two to three
times the national average of childhood leukemia rates, for example.
Over one million people were exposed between 1957 and 1987. Ensminger
has become a determined, eloquent spokesperson for those injured, but
we all need to get the message and pass it on.
It's not just the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune. Hundreds of powerful
chemicals are untested, unregulated and mishandled in the military, in
industry, and in agriculture. We simply don't have a good track record
where contamination is concerned. By water we are all connected. A few
days ago, I received a form letter from Pennsylvania Governor Tom
Corbett about his recently signed Marcellus Shale legislation. Touting
it as "the most comprehensive rewrite of Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Act
in nearly three decades," Corbett sees the following as an
"enhancement" to the environmental standards: "Increasing well setback
distance from 100 to 300 feet for streams, rivers and other water
bodies; from 200 to 500 feet from buildings and private water wells,
and to 1,000 feet from public drinking water systems."
Considering human error and natural forces such as floods and
earthquakes, let alone bureaucratic malpractice and cover up, these
"enhancements" seem woefully inadequate as safeguards. Especially when
we consider how high the stakes are. As the film goes on, we find out
that there are hundreds of contaminated military sites around the
country, making the military "the nation's largest polluter."
Interviewed about the attitudes of the Marine administration, Mike
Hargett of Grainger Labs remarks that "government regulations were a
burden that was unwelcome." Near Kelly Air Force base, environmental
scientist Wilma Subra tells us that over 20,000 houses sit atop a
contamination plume that releases vapors into the residents' homes on
hot days. These houses are not even on the base. According to the film,
"1 in 10 Americans lives within 10 miles of a contaminated military
The panelists helped bring the topic into local focus. Bobbi Chase
Wilding, the Deputy Director of Clean and Healthy New York, has
extensive experience in environmental health and justice. She has
worked for NYPIRG and the Citizens' Environmental Coalition, and
currently serves on the Advisory Board for New York State's Pollution
Prevention Institute and on the committee of the Interstate Chemicals
Clearinghouse. Tom Ellis is on the Board of Directors of Citizens'
Environmental Coalition, and is a member of the Community Concerned
about NL Industries. This former armaments factory has left a legacy of
depleted uranium residues in neighborhoods near their site at 1130
Central Avenue in Colonie.
|The mysterious death from leukemia of
Janey, Ensminger's 9-yearold daughter led to his quest for answers.
FOR THOUGHT: An Evening of Socially Relevant Cinema
FOR THOUGHT: An Evening of Socially Relevant Cinema is co-presented by
Honest Weight, WAMC Northeast Public Radio and the New York State
Council on the Arts. Along with a documentary film, the monthly event
features food samples from the Co-op and a panel discussion
highlighting social, political, environmental and community issues.
up: Fixing the Future
and organizations across America are attempting a revolution: the
reinvention of the American economy. Fixing the Future visits
communities using sustainable and innovative approaches to create jobs
and build prosperity—inspiring hope and renewal in a time of economic
collapse. The film highlights effective, local practices: business
alliances, community banking, time banking/ hour exchange, worker
cooperatives and local currencies.
Fixing the Future Across America is a national campaign, and the Albany
screening is one of more than 50 scheduled for the same date. The
campaign encourages American communities to create resilient, local
economies through innovative approaches to job creation, while linking
them to a nationwide network of business groups and community-based
screenings at The Linda, WAMC's Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central
Ave., Albany. 6pm reception, 7pm film. More info and tickets ($6): http://www.wamcarts.org/eventlist.php,
or call 518-465-5233 ext4.
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