Film Exposing Marine Base Camp Lejeune Water Pollution Wins Award
NEW YORK, New York, April 9, 2012 (ENS) – “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” a documentary about Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger’s fight to expose the water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina after the death of his daughter, has been awarded the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize.
The prize, which “honors acts of truth-telling in documentary film,” memorializes the late Ron Ridenhour, who blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War and then became an award-winning investigative journalist.
“Semper Fi” Filmmakers Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon will receive $10,000, and be honored at the National Press Club on April 25.
“For almost a decade, these awards have made Ron Ridenhour’s legacy of courage and fidelity to the truth a living one,” said Randy Fertel, founder of the Fertel Foundation, which co-sponsors the prizes.
“‘Semper Fi: Always Faithful’ is the story of a lifelong Marine who, faced with the truth about the death of his daughter, used it to save the lives of countless others,” said Fertel. “‘Semper Fi’ inspires us, and renews our faith that brave words spoken in challenging times are the most powerful antidote to evil.”
Ensminger’s quest to understand why his daughter Janey died of leukemia death at the age of nine pitted him against the U.S. Marine Corps, to which he had pledged to be always faithful.
Jerry Ensminger holds a portrait of his late daughter, Janey (Photo courtesy The Few, the Proud, the Forgotten)
In his search for answers, Ensminger exposed a cover-up by the Marine Corps of one of the largest water contamination incidents in U.S. history. The water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where Ensminger lived with his family while his wife was pregnant with Janey, had been contaminated with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals for three decades.
The Marine Corps was made aware of the contamination in 1980, but did not officially notify the residents of the base until 2008, after Ensminger’s campaign brought national attention to the issue.
On a website linked to the documentary, Ensminger tells the story of how he first learned that toxic chemicals in Camp Lejeune drinking water were responsible for Janey’s leukemia.
“Janey succumbed to her disease on 24 September 1985 and I still didn’t have an answer. It wasn’t until August 1997, three years after I retired from the USMC, that I finally got a glimmer of hope that I might finally get an answer,” writes Ensminger.
“I was coming out of the kitchen with a plate of spaghetti in my hand to watch the evening news when the reporter on TV said that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry had just released a report on Camp Lejeune and the chemicals which had been found in the base drinking water could possibly be linked to childhood cancer, primarily leukemia. I dropped my plate of food onto the living room floor, Janey was the only one of my four children who had been either conceived, carried, or born while living at Camp Lejeune!”
“When I first learned of the contamination issue, I had all the faith and confidence that the Marine Corps that I had served for nearly a quarter century would step up and do what was right by their people,” writes Ensminger. “But as time passed and I made more and more personal contacts with representatives of the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy, the realization came over me that not only were these organizations not going to do what was right by their people, they were engaged in doing the opposite.”
“They were knowingly providing investigators with incorrect data. They were obfuscating the facts. They hid data/information in password protected electronic files and they told many, many half-truths and total lies,” Ensminger writes. “When I began to witness this misconduct, I realized that they were going to have to be forced to do what was right.”
“With that being said, I want to assure everyone that the Marine Corps motto “Semper Fidelis” and our slogan “we take care of our own” are still very much alive and well down at the unit levels,” writes Ensminger. “The scariest and most disillusioning discovery for me in this whole issue has been the deceitful conduct at the highest echelons of leadership.”
In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water provided by two of the eight water treatment plants on base, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Water from the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant was contaminated by high levels of PCE (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene). The source of the contamination was the waste disposal practices at ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning firm.
Water from the Hadnot Point Treatment Plant was contaminated primarily by TCE (trichloroethylene). Other contaminants in the drinking water included DCE (t-1,2-dichloroethylene), PCE and benzene. The system was contaminated by leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites.
In June 2011, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry began a health survey of diseases associated with chemical exposures from drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
The survey was sent to more than 300,000 people who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune before 1986 or at Camp Pendleton in California, which was chosen for comparison.
Christopher Portier, Ph.D., director of ATSDR and the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “The survey aims to provide scientifically useful health information about exposure to contaminants.”
ATSDR expects to release the findings in early 2014.