My name is Jim Fontella. I'm a former Marine and I am one of the seventy-three men diagnosed with male breast cancer after being exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (MCBCL). I was stationed at Lejeune from February of 1966 through April of 1967. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 at the age of 52. A year and a half later, the cancer spread to my cervical spine, destroying my C2 vertebrae and breaking it in two places. My oncologist said that my future was grim, informing me that most people only live one to two years after the cancer metastasizes. In December of 2008 Mike Partain contacted me and told me that I was the eighth person he found that was stationed on the base and had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though we were only 8, I still felt this was unusual.
After speaking with Jerry and Mike, who were working to unravel the case of contamination at Lejeune, I decided to join in the investigation process of reading the ATSDR CERCLA discs to see for myself if the water was indeed contaminated. It was difficult for me to understand why the USMC would let this happen, especially if they knew the water was contaminated and chose to ignore that very fact. I was sure that if the water was found to be toxic, they would notify everyone on the base to take precautions and get checked on a regular basis.
Soon after delving into the documents it became clear to me that just the opposite was true. I found that the Marine Corps knew about the contaminated drinking water almost five years before shutting down the contaminated wells. What’s more, they withheld key documents from the scientific organization (ATSDR) that was mandated by congress to investigate the health issues that were potentially linked to the exposures to benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and vinyl chloride, all known carcinogens that were found in the contaminated wells. The groundwater was the only source of drinking water on the base.
I am a Vietnam veteran and I am proud of my service, but after discovering the Marine Corps and Navy's attempt to minimize and deny the exposures, I was completely disheartened. The facts and the documents don’t lie. Their Public Affairs office and Department of Environmental Management described the level contamination as minimal, ordering that the wells be closed as a precautionary measure, when in fact the levels of TCE were the highest ever recorded in the finished tap water in the history of our nation. Hundreds, if not thousands of our patriots have already succumbed to their illnesses, yet the Marine Corps still says there is no proof that the contaminated drinking water caused any of the sickness associated with exposure from drinking, inhaling, or showering with the toxic water. When I first filed my claim with the Veterans Administration for my breast cancer in August of 2009, I was told that they were not accepting claims from Camp Lejeune. I insisted on filing after showing the service officer many of the clinical studies linking breast cancer to the chemicals in the water. Not surprisingly, in September of 2010 I was denied. I filed my appeal immediately to counter every sentence of their denial with factual documents and up-to-date clinical studies, and eventually my claim was awarded in September of 2011. The Veterans Administration system itself makes it difficult for a veteran to win a claim, especially from environmental exposures. We all remember Agent Orange. More than 200 claims have been awarded from the exposures to the contaminated drinking water, and still the Marine Corps’ office of Public Affairs insists that there’s no proof to link the diseases to the water.
When I was first diagnosed in 1998 I took a trip to the University of Michigan’s genetic laboratory. I wanted to see if I was carrying any of the breast cancer genes, that way I could have my children checked as a precautionary measure on a regular basis. Is'nt that all the Marine Corps had to do for us? I could have been diagnosed at stage 1 instead of stage 3. Maybe most of those babies that were stillborn at the Navy Hospital on the base would be alive today. We are patriots and we matter. We served our country, and asked for nothing in return. They must be held accountable.
Semper Fi: Always Faithful is a factual documentary about former Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger’s struggle to have the Marine Corps to live up to their own motto: Semper Fi. Jerry lost his daughter to the contaminated drinking water and he will never give up. I know it, the Marine Corps knows it, and the American people are going to know it.
Male Breast Cancer Survivor
Marine Combat Veteran
I love my country