Incurable cancer blamed on water at Marine base



But the 45-year-old thinks the military downplayed the presence of toxins in the water supply at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Menard was stationed from 1981-84. He believes the contaminated water contributed to his rare, noncurable skin cancer.

"We had no clue what was going on," he said. "When you're in the military you do what's asked of you and don't ask questions."

A few years after his return to civilian life in the late 1980s, Menard said he noticed a rash on his back. When a doctor told him it likely was psoriasis, Menard didn't treat it. A few years later, another doctor reaffirmed the psoriasis diagnosis, this time on his leg, and gave him a cream but it didn't help.

Eventually, Menard developed a significant rash on his knee, and his wife Debbie asked her doctor to look at it. He was referred to a dermatologist and was diagnosed in 2001 with a rare form of skin cancer known as mycosis fungoides.

He said he never made a connection between his cancer and the tainted water until he received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service in October 2008 indicating the Marines wanted him to be aware of water contamination at Camp Lejeune .

"That's when it all clicked," Allen Menard said. "We started to put two and two together."

Military contact

A solvent used to clean metal and a chemical used in dry cleaning were first found in Camp Lejeune's drinking water in the early 1980s, according to the Center for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Polluted wells were shut down in 1985 and the camp was officially named a federal cleanup site in 1989.

The military learned of the contamination when it began testing the water under new Environmental Protection Agency standards in the early 1980s.

The water at the base "had an odor to it," Menard said. "I didn't think anything of it. You figure you're in a new place. It's different."

Contamination came from ABC One-Hour Cleaners, a nearby dry-cleaning facility, and a combination of industrial operations, waste-water disposal practices as well as leaking underground storage tanks, according to the toxic substances registery.

"The first thing I want to stress is that the water is safe today," said Capt. Amy Malugani, of the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office.

The federal government is asking veterans stationed at the camp up to and including 1987 to join a registry because officials are studying possible health effects from the tainted water. About 115,000 have signed up so far, Malugani said.

Allen Menard and some other veterans worry the military waited too long to contact them about the contamination. But Malugani said the military has tried to find people who served at the base.

"There were a lot of steps to be taken," Malugani responded. "First they found the contamination and did further studies. Then the process began with all the government agencies. We did conduct mass public awareness efforts, but unfortunately they didn't have the (housing) records we have now."

"We completely understand people's concerns and that's why we're doing everything we can to try to make them aware and to join the registry."

Menard continues to look for answers. He recently visited the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee and has been in touch with U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton.

He wants disability compensation, but he said his main concern is finding other veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune who might not know about the toxic water or the registry.

The results of the studies may be released in 2009, Malugani said, but it's too early to tell how the government will respond.

"People can go to our Web site to file a claim," she said. "But with the study not being done and the link not being made to certain illnesses, they may be waiting a while … we want to do this right, we really do."

A lifelong diagnosis

Menard's cancer went into remission after he had a form of photochemotherapy that used ultraviolet light. He sees a dermatologist and oncologist every six months, but there is no known cure, and the disease could eventually kill him.

Menard doesn't have evidence his cancer can be linked to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, but he and his wife say the connection makes sense.

"This is a very rare cancer, only about one person in (a) million get it, and it's usually in men over 50. He was in his 30s," Debbie Menard said.

Allen Menard said his family doesn't have a history of cancer and doesn't know of a known genetic link for this type of cancer.

He had not kept in touch with people who were at the base when he was there, but is now learning of other veterans who spent time there who were diagnosed with different types of cancers, had liver problems and had children with birth defects.

Even with his cancer, Allen Menard cherishes memories of his time in the service.

"Am I upset? Sure," he said. "I think they hid a lot of things. I think they might be trying to pass the blame now, saying it was the standards of that time.

"But I'm still proud to be a Marine."

Additional Facts
On the Net
If you were stationed at Camp Lejeune or have questions, visit www.Marines.mil.
According to a link from the Web site, the Department of the Navy is funding two independent research initiatives. The Center for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry is conducting a study to determine if there is an association between exposure to the water and certain adverse health effects. The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing scientific evidence on associations between adverse health effects and historical data.
The Marine Corps is asking all those who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune in 1987 or earlier to register to receive notifications regarding the drinking water issue.


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