"Toxicgate" killed families, Georgia woman says - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

"Toxicgate" killed families, Georgia woman says

Ellen Harris Ellen Harris
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February 2, 2004

Albany-- A South Georgia woman says a military cover-up cost thousands of lives, "This is wrong for what has happened. This is the worst thing since Watergate. It's Toxicgate."

She says thousands were poisoned by drinking water on a military base. Ellen Harris says she is dying because of contaminated water she drank at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

She says she's only one of as many as 200,000 people now sick, or who have died, from the water. And she says the military knew of the problem and covered it up.

Ellen Harris should not be alive today, "I'm toxic poisoned. I should have been dead a long time ago."

This Fort Gaines woman was stationed with her husband and her three children at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina during most of the 1970's. She says her family was sick almost immediately. "Sick. My children were sick within several weeks. We all had, all the families, we all lived in the hospital and we all had the same thing."

Ailments from chronic headaches to cancer. Ellen herself has more than 50 tumors in her body, severe skin lesions, and breathing problems. Her doctor gave her some more bad news, "I have to have a double mastectomy. And the double mastectomy is because of the toxic poisoning."

The national news media are beginning to pay attention to the water problems at Camp Lejeune. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a 1980 test of the drinking water there showed high levels of cancer-causing chemicals--but the base did not shut down the infected water supply until 1985.

It's a secret Ellen Harris says her husband told her a few days before he died, "The Saturday before, after 35 years of marriage--he was nuclear, biological, chemical-- he came out of his room and into the living room and he said, Ellen I have something I want to say to you. And I said, What Jim? He says, We were dumping chemicals in the ditches at Camp Lejeune."

The silence is broken now. Ellen says she wants only one thing before she dies--to speak on Capitol Hill, "I am gonna make it. Because I am here for a purpose and my purpose is to tell what I know. And I will tell. My body is ruined but there is nothing wrong with my mind. And I remember it all." A memory that will outlive her ravaged body.

Ellen Harris and more than 270 other families have a tort suit against the military. The EPA. is conducting a criminal investigation into the history of contamination at the base.

Posted at 3:57 p.m. by melissa.kill@walb.com