Government watchdogs and environmental advocates said they interpret the letter as further evidence of a Navy effort to evade culpability for what many call the worst and largest drinking water contamination in U.S. history.
As part of its research, the disease registry must map the entire water system on the base, past and present. And for the findings to be credible, the registry must release all of the information, so other scientists can review or replicate the results. The Navy's pressure could stymie that effort.
Ensminger and other advocates said they are concerned that the letter represents another maneuver by the Navy to cover up its actions and inactions, and to delay justice for the estimated 1 million Marines and family members who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune over 30-odd years.
Legislation is currently pending in the House and Senate that seeks to provide healthcare to Camp Lejeune residents suffering as a result of exposure to the contaminated drinking water. The Senate bill passed the Committee on Veterans' Affairs over the summer and awaits further action. Legislators are on the hunt for offsets to cover its $340 million price. The House version of the bill, named after Janey Ensminger, has yet to move out of committee.
Ensminger called Camp Lejeunethe "tip of the iceberg." With over 130 contaminated military sites around the country, he said, "that makes the DOD the nation's largest polluter."
The Navy letter to the disease registry "is completely ignoring the new law on the books," said Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight. "The Navy, the department being investigated by the agency, is requesting that information be broadly withheld without specific authority under the law.
"This smacks of coercion," Canterbury added.