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Apr-22-2010 02:00printcomments

Born at Camp Lejeune, Can't Afford Cancer Surgery

Camp Lejeune’s adverse health effects have affected an estimated 500,000 veterans and dependents, leaving many unable to work and lacking health care, in desperate situations.

family of Teresa Trantham
Photos courtesy: Courtesy: Teresa Trantham

(REDDING, Calif.) - A number of veterans and dependents of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina continue to suffer from cancer linked to their exposure to organic solvents like trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and benzene in the base wells.

Teresa Trantham of Redding, CA, a breast cancer survivor, is a former dependent of a Camp Lejeune Marine. Her cancer may be linked to the contaminated water on the base. The contaminated wells are closed now but those exposed to the drinking water, there’s no way to reset the clock.

A number of veterans and dependents of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina continue to suffer from cancer linked to their exposure to organic solvents like trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and benzene in the base wells. The contaminated wells are closed now but for those exposed to the drinking water, there’s no way to reset the clock.

Camp Lejeune is one of the 130 military bases on the EPA National Priority List (Superfund list). Many of them contaminated with the same organic solvents as Camp Lejeune. There’s no government policy to notify veterans and dependents of their possible exposure to toxic contaminants. Thousands have served on these military installations. The number exposed and ill is impossible to estimate. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee estimated the number exposed at Camp Lejeune may be as high as 500,000.

The Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry (ATSDR)—a Federal government agency responsible for public health assessments of EPA Superfund sites - reported health problems in people of all ages from drinking water contaminated with organic solvents. These include aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, esophageal cancer, and Hodgkin’s disease.

Terry Dyer & Barack Obama

The STAND, an internet website (watersurvivors.com) was established in 2000 by Terry Dyer who was nearly 2 when her family moved to Lejeune’s Tarawa Terrace, where they lived from 1958 to 1973. She and her two sisters all have had radical hysterectomies.

They are the only women in the family to have to undergo this procedure. She said they suffered miscarriages, thyroid conditions, tumors, cysts, skin diseases, and asthma. Terry continues to suffer from repeated bouts of bladder cancer. This website acts as an advocate for Lejeune veterans and dependents.

STAND representatives contacted us about the story of a former Lejeune dependent born on the base that survived breast cancer, is at a high risk for uterus cancer, but has been unable to get any gynecologists in her community to accept her Medicaid health insurance for the surgery.

Teresa Trantham, age 36, Redding, California, was born at Camp Lejeune in 1974. She’s a single mother of two boys, Audie, age 14 and Anthony James (AJ), age 8.

Her life changed drastically in June 2009 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A double mastectomy left her unable to work as a waitress at River View Golf and Country Club.

The Marine Corps disputes the connection of cancer to the Camp Lejeune contaminated base wells.

The Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR), a Federal agency whose mission is to perform public health assessments of EPA Superfund sites like Camp Lejeune, reported that breast cancer is linked to organic solvent exposure.

Both Teresa’s father and mother died at age 53. Her father was a Camp Lejeune Marine and lived with his family in Midway Park, one of the dependent housing quarters on the base.

Was Teresa exposed to organic solvents at Camp Lejeune? Midway Park was serviced by the base’s Hadnot Point water distribution system.

According to ATSDR, “The Hadnot Point drinking water system is still being modeled. We know that trichloroethylene was found at 1400 ppb, trans 1,2-dichloroethylene was present at more than 300 ppb, and benzene and pesticides were found in the water.”

Until ATSDR completes Hadnot Point’s modeling, no one will know for sure whether Midway Park’s water system was contaminated in 1973-1976.

We do know that Teresa’s parents lived on Butler Drive in Midway Park when she was conceived.

The Jacksonville Daily News reported on April 17, 2010, that, “From 1943 through 1987, more than 190 infants — whose mothers all lived on Butler Drive — were either delivered stillborn, died at birth, died moments thereafter or succumbed within the first 18 months of life after delivery at the Naval Hospital, according to an exhaustive check of death certificates on file at the Onslow County Courthouse.”

The deaths of Butler Drive’s infants is a concern. However, the Jacksonville news story is not definitive proof that Teresa’s breast cancer is linked to Midway Park’s drinking water but not it’s not cause for celebration either.

None of this will bring needed financial support to Teresa and her two boys or pay for her needed surgery. She has not filed a Federal tort claim and, if even she did, the Navy has all of the tort claims for alleged injuries from Lejeune’s water wells on hold. No one has been paid a dime. Apparently, the Lejeune veterans and dependents are not in the same ballpark as the Wall Street bankers, automobile companies and AIG.

Teresa’s immediate medical problem is she needs a hysterectomy. After her double mastectomy, she is at a higher risk for cancer of the uterus. Her doctor has recommended the surgery. The problem is that the three hospitals in Redding, California—Shasta Regional Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, and Patients Hospital—offered her no assistance in finding a gynecologist who would accept her Medi-Cal heath care insurance (California’s Medicaid program).

Now unable to work as a waitress at the River View Golf & County, her only source of income is alimony and child support payments from her ex-husband. This money is barely enough to pay for her two bedroom apartment and put food on the table. Paying for a hysterectomy is out of the question.

Teresa has applied for Social Security disability, but no decision has been made and she said that her follow-up calls have not helped to speed up the Social Security review process.

Congressional legislation was introduced this year in both the House (HR 4555, Janey Ensminger Act) and the Senate (Senator Akaka’s original bill) to provide health care coverage to both Camp Lejeune veterans and dependents.

A Senate Veterans Affairs Committee bill introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (D, Hi) in January 2010, is still awaiting a Committee report before a bill number can be assigned and the bill moved to the Senate floor.

Major differences between the two bills present formidable barriers to the passage of any compromise legislation. For example, HR 4555 provides for health coverage by the Department of Veterans Affairs while Senator Akaka’s bill would give both veterans and dependents access to the Defense Department’s TRICARE health insurance system.

For Teresa, the need for medical care coverage is critical. The unanswered question is whether the legislation will be passed in time before it’s too late.


Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at mwsg37.com. This subject is where Bob intersected with Salem-News.com. Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne

  • . You can email Bob O’Dowd, Salem-News.com Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address: consults03@comcast.net

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    IKNOW April 26, 2010 2:31 pm (Pacific time)


    John Hartung April 23, 2010 2:34 pm (Pacific time)

    Teresa, Please go to veteransforchange.com. Jim Davis will try to give you some help. I can get some info to you. Both websites are very good at helping people. The girls over at the stand can help you in alot of ways. They will love to listen to you and try to help. Jim and me will help with the medical side of it. We all will make sure to help you. I'm happy that you got in contact with the Stand (watersuriviors.com) Now all of us can help you and your family. Let us help you! John Hartung

    Henry April 22, 2010 1:27 pm (Pacific time)

    "LIFE CAN BE FASCINATING" According to Marines who served with him, Tim King grew up the youngest of three children in Los Angeles, Calif.  As a Marine he was a person others could count on.  Memories of that time period include pressed uniforms and spit shined boots, only a couple of Marines in Tim's squadron bothered.  Nobody is surprised that he is a national writer today with a major following.  He was part of the MCAS El Toro Surf Team in 1983, and also played volleyball like few.  Tim's hot rod Chevy van is a legend among many.  When he wasn't going surfing, Tim was pulling low 15 second times on Fun and Grudge Night at the long-closed Irvine dragstrip.  It is not a surprise that today, Tim and his friends are leading the effort to expose El Toro for what it is.  

    John Hartung April 22, 2010 4:15 am (Pacific time)

    Tim and Bob, How can we help? What kind of support can we give her. I have a few bucks I can give her. I don't have much but I can give! Let me know if I can help. John lifeaftercamplejeune.com

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