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Former Associated Press writer Jim Purks shared his experiences with people in Albany Thursday night.More >>
Former Associated Press writer Jim Purks shared his experiences with people in Albany Thursday night. More >>
February 26, 2004
Albany-- The Marine Corps' motto, "Semper Fidelis" means "always faithful". But some retired Marines and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina before 1985 say the Corps broke that creed.
In January, we aired a story featuring a Fort Gaines woman who says she is poisoned from water she drank there. It's a story that caught the attention of several South Georgia families. And they, too, may be poisoned.
We introduced you to Ellen Harris in January. "I'm toxic poisoned. I should have been dead a long time ago," she told us then.
"When I seen Ellen Harris on the news I seen her skin and I said oh my gosh, that's, I just broke down and cried." A Tifton mother and grandmother, Pamela Lake, saw herself in Ellen Harris. "I'm not happy what has happened to me and I don't know if that's the cause what they are saying but I'm, I'm very concerned about my health."
Pamela Lake, like Ellen Harris, lived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with her Marine husband in the 1970's. Like Ellen, Pamela drank the water there, bathed in it, washed in it. Water contaminated with high levels of cancer-causing chemicals.
Now, Pamela, like Ellen, has life-threatening health problems. "It itches, my skin is dry, it hurts, it burns, um it feels like something is burning me all the time."
At first doctors thought Pamela had skin cancer, now they are baffled. "The doctor just shakes his head every time he looks at me now. Truthfully I can't see where it can be sun damage because there are parts of my body that have never been exposed to the sun and it is there really bad."
Painful, flaky, cancer-laden skin is not Pamela's only health problem. "Last year I almost, I literally almost lost my life. My gall bladder burst into my liver. The doctor said he had never seen anything like that."
"My mother saw the story and called me down at my home and told me to come up real quick and see it." Joyce Mullis-Keith lives in Albany, but in 1970, she was newly enlisted in the Marines and stationed at Camp Lejeune. Soon after, she married and gave birth to a daughter on the base.
Joyce has a long list of health problems, but she is more concerned about her adult daughter who was conceived and born there. "I would like to find out if she was exposed. That would explain a lot of her medical problems and a lot of her illnesses."
It's not surprising several viewers contacted us after Ellen's story aired, South Georgia is home to many retired Marine families. At this point, 200,000 people could have been exposed to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, making it the largest contaminated water case in our country's history.
Ellen Harris is now an advocate for the women and children of Camp Lejeune. "There is not an elected senator in the United States that I have not contacted their office in the last four years."
Only one has listened, Vermont Senator James Jeffords. And two weeks ago, Jeffords called for an expansion of the federal study into the health impacts of the drinking water contamination at Camp Lejeune to include every child and adult. If Jeffords' wish becomes reality, each one of these three women will be contacted by the government. "I do think it has something to do with my medical condition, I may be wrong. But as many times as I have been to a doctor. I just see myself getting worse and worse."
And she feels more and more that she's been betrayed, forgotten by the Marine Corps, the military family whose motto promises they'll be "Always faithful."
A 1980 test of the drinking water at Camp Lejeune showed high levels of cancer-causing chemicals, but the wells were not closed until five years later.
On Friday, the Commandant of the Marine Corps convened an independent panel to review the water problems at Camp Lejeune from 1980 to 1985. In a press release, Major General Hagee says "informing and supporting our Marine families remains our top priority."
We will keep you updated on the what happens with the review.