Aug 28

Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

Semper Fi: Always Faithful – Documenting a Fight for Environmental Justice.

 

NYC writer focusing on women’s issues; co-founder, cultID
Posted: 8/28/11 04:35 PM ET in Huffington Post

“There are over 130 contaminated military sites in the United states. This makes the Department of Defense the nation’s largest polluter.”

These words stand as the most salient message of the documentary Semper Fi: Always Faithful, a film that encompasses the worlds of environmental justice, the military, politics and science.

The protagonist of the narrative is Ret. Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger — a formidable presence. When framed against the backdrop of the United States Capitol, his physical demeanor telegraphs that he is a man to be reckoned with. For Ensminger, the narrative begins with his daughter, Janey, who died at the age of 9 from a rare form of childhood leukemia. Trying to understand the reason behind her illness is the subtext of Ensminger’s quest, as well as the connective tissue for the ensuing narrative about water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Ensminger’s relentless search for truth is driven by the need to get answers not only for himself, but also for the nearly one million people who were unknowingly exposed to toxic chemicals at the base.

The backstory gets set in motion in 1941, when a fuel depot in operation at Camp Lejeune had leaks that were seeping into the ground — 1,500 feet from a drinking water supply well. The estimated start date of the water contamination was 1957, when other improperly disposed of solvents additionally entered the mix. In 1975, Ensminger was living at Camp Lejeune. His wife was pregnant with Janey. In 1983, his daughter received her diagnosis. Ironically, unbeknownst to Ensminger, between 1980-1984, the water was being tested at the base with results consistently finding contaminants and “health concerns.”

In 1985, the Commanding General at Camp Lejeune notified residents to conserve water because of well closures, but neglected to mention that 11 wells were closed due to contamination –referencing only “minute [traces] of several organic chemicals” present in the water. In actuality, the chemical levels were 20 to 280 times the safety standards of today. The last contaminated well was closed in 1987, without notification to any of the residents of Camp Lejeune, either past or present.

It wasn’t until 1997 that Ensminger had a clue about the situation. He heard a report on the local news about a “proposed health study on adults and babies” exposed to carcinogens in the water supply at Camp Lejeune. Then it all started to click.

When Ensminger found out that the Marines were not taking care of their own, he felt totally betrayed. Yet his close to 25 years of military service as a drill sergeant had comprehensively prepared him to become a forceful opponent to the Department of Defense (DOD). He applied the Marine mindset — “Don’t give up ground; No person left behind” — to the task at hand. It gave him the tenacity and grit to take his case all the way to the halls of Congress. The juxtaposition between hardnosed non-com and grieving parent presents Ensminger as a multidimensional anchor for the action around him. The film captures Ensminger’s righteous anger in a sequence when he visits a cemetery near Camp Lejeune, pointing out a series of headstones marking the graves of babies. Later, while detailing the pain his daughter endured from her illness, it comes as no surprise when he states emotionally, “You understand my resolve.”

Ensminger came to realize that he was dealing with a cover-up, and that the government regulations “were a burden that was unwelcome” by the DOD. An interaction between those who have been harmed and Marine Corps representatives is telling. “A very difficult and laborious task” is how the Marines qualify notifying those who have been impacted, adding feebly, “We could try.” One of the key characters fighting cancer, former Marine Denita McCall, is overwhelmed by frustration. She states, “If I die tomorrow, my family gets nothing.”

The movie, which began shooting in mid-2007 and wrapped at the end of 2010, is able to encapsulate Ensminger’s journey through the political maze. He graduates from consistently unreturned phone calls to finding support from Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). Miller has reintroduced the Janey Ensminger Act, which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care to veterans and their families who have been impacted from their exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. Burr has sponsored a bill in the Senate, the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011.

With approximately 1 in 10 Americans living within 10 miles of a contaminated military site, Ensminger comments, “Camp Lejeune is just the tip of the iceberg.” His verbal asides lend color and a down to earth voice amidst the technical jargon of science, military, and law material. A meeting at the National Academy of Sciences to review the classification of the chemical PCE, is an opportunity for Ensminger to weigh in on the testifying suits. “These people come flying in on jets… Why is the benefit of the doubt going to the chemicals?… It’s all about money.”

Semper Fi: Always Faithful had its world premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, and is rolling out in theaters on August 26. At a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is coming under attack for “over-regulation,” the film stands as a testimony to what happens when the public’s health is neither protected nor considered.

I spoke with Rachel Libert (who co-directed the film with Tony Hardmon), to discuss the political ramifications of the documentary, and her commitment to creating films that “raise awareness and effect social change.” Libert characterized the information they encountered as similar to “layers of an onion peeling away.” She never expected to learn how “broken” the public health and environment regulatory systems were. Libert expanded on the enforcement issues the EPA was having with the DOD, clarifying that as a government agency — the DOD has been able to circumvent standards that would be strictly applied to private companies.

As Libert explained it, Ensminger’s search for the truth rippled out into an examination beyond water contamination and illness. It entered the spheres of the clout of special interests and how to determine guidelines on regulating toxic chemicals. She said, “When you make a film like this, it doesn’t just exist in the entertainment world. Our first question was, ‘What can we do?’ Film is a very powerful tool to reach people you wouldn’t normally reach. It has the ability to do that. It’s a pathway to action.”

To that end, the film’s website has a “Take Action” link which encourages the public to write their representatives in support of the pending legislation. Community screenings have been set up across the country, and partnerships have been forged with environmental groups.

For Libert, the fact that the film could push forward an agenda was a “dream” for her as a filmmaker. It also left her with a new sense of optimism. Despite the fact she knew that Ensminger was a man of “relentless determination,” she was cynical about how much he could actually accomplish.

Liebert pointed to the ultimately “hopeful message” — Individuals can make a difference through the power of one.

This article originally appeared on the website cultureID

 

Aug 22

Atlantic Garbage Patch Getting Smaller Or Just Smaller Pieces?

Eating Garbage: Plastic In Ocean Is A Bad Deal – And Meal – For Fish

(SEA) ATLANTIC OCEAN — The garbage patch may not be growing, but the plastic ends up somewhere. Plastic waste is either disintegrating and floating to the ocean floor or eaten by unsuspecting fish. Researchers explain why either scenario is hard to digest. – Global Animal  – August 22, 2011

National Geographic News, Rachel Kaufman

At first, it seemed like good news: Measurements of the “garbage patch” in the Atlantic Ocean showed that the amount of plastic trash there hasn’t increased over the past two decades.

Similar to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the North Atlantic garbage patch is somewhat like a region of plastic soup, although “soup implies you can see the vegetables,” said study leader Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association (SEA) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Instead, most of the Atlantic trash is in the form of tiny plastic bits—from bags and bottles blown off landfills or tossed into the sea—swirling in a still undefined region of open ocean hundreds of miles off the North American coast.

Law and colleagues recently analyzed data from the Atlantic garbage patch collected over the past 22 years and found that the concentration of stuff in the patch hasn’t grown over time.

But even taking increased recycling rates into account, humans’ plastic use over the past two decades has increased. So where has all the plastic gone?

It’s possible some of the trash is just too small for researchers to catalog, study leader Law said: “Our net only captures pieces larger than [a third of a millimeter] in size, and it’s certain that the plastic breaks down into pieces smaller than that.”

Some of the fragments might have been eaten by sea creatures that mistook the plastic for plankton—tiny, free-floating marine plants and animals. The plastic pieces could also be sinking, weighed down by colonies of marine bacteria.

Another expedition to study the patch earlier this year—led by Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen of theAlgalita Marine Research Foundation—had intended to stop and deploy a sediment sampler to test for plastic that might have sunk to the ocean floor. But that trip was cut short by bad weather, Cummins said.

Atlantic Plastic Patch Full of Mystery

Researchers can’t tell the ages of individual plastic bits, since there are no chemical techniques for dating petroleum-based products, SEA’s Law said. That makes it nearly impossible to tell if the seemingly stable amount of trash is actually due to turnover.

There’s also currently no way to track the origins of the plastic: “We’re not seeing Coke bottles stamped with ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’” Law said. A computer model of ocean circulation suggests the fastest route to the patch begins at the U.S. East Coast.

Meanwhile, even though the SEA expedition traveled a thousand miles (1,609 kilometers) east of Bermuda, “we still can’t find the eastern edge” of the patch, Law said.

The Algalita mission traveled much farther east, all the way to the Azores islands off Portugal (map), the foundation’s Eriksen said, and “we had plastics in our samples from Bermuda to the Azores.”

Overall, the results tell “a depressing story, to be honest,” SEA’s Law added. “You’re like, Great, [the patch] is not increasing! But I’m sure it is.”

Jun 23

Nuclear plant workers release unknown amount of radioactive tritium into Mississippi River

tritium(NaturalNews) Workers at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant in Port Gibson, Miss., last Thursday released a large amount of radioactive tritium directly into the Mississippi River, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and experts are currently trying to sort out the situation. An investigation is currently underway to determine why the tritium was even present in standing water found in an abandoned unit of the plant, as well as how much of this dangerous nuclear byproduct ended up getting dumped into the river. Many also want to know why workers released the toxic tritium before conducting proper tests.

The Mississippi Natchez Democrat reports that crews first discovered the radioactive water in the plant’s Unit 2 turbine building after heavy rains began hitting the area last week. Unit 2 was a partially-constructed, abandoned structure that should not have contained any radioactive materials, let alone tritium, which is commonly used to manufacture nuclear weapons and test atomic bombs (http://www.nirs.org/radiation/triti…).

According to reports, alarms began to go off as workers were releasing the radioactive storm water into the river, which engaged the stop flow on the release pump. Neither NRC nor plant officials know how much tritium was released into the river during this release.

“Although concentrations of tritium exceeded EPA drinking water limits, the release should not represent a hazard to public health because of its dilution in the river,” insisted Lara Uselding, public affairs officer at NRC Region IV, to reporters.

Such a statement, of course, is a health concern because precise levels of released tritium are unknown. Just because the radioactive substance has been diluted does not necessarily mean it is harmless, nor does it verify the substance’s source or whether or not it is still being unknowingly released. Without this crucial information, there is no telling where else tritium might be lurking around the plant and river.

A beta radioactive substance, tritium bombards cells and damages DNA when inhaled or swallowed, and can persist in the body for more than ten years upon exposure. Its perpetual effect on cells can lead to all sorts of serious diseases, including, but not limited to, gene mutations, birth defects, and cancer.

Sources for this story include:

http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/2011…

http://www2.wjtv.com/news/2011/may/…