Submitted by Rhea Y. Miller
This past month I led a memorial service for my brother-in-law, a proud Marine, an immigrant who had legally obtained citizenship, and a loyal friend. I held his hand as he died. Shortly after his death, his widow received notice that she would receive a monthly payment for the rest of her life from the U.S. government, not because he was killed or wounded in combat, but because he lived at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The water contamination problem occurred at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987. During that time, the United States Marine Corps service members and their families living at the base, including young children, bathed in and ingested tap water that was contaminated with harmful dry cleaning chemicals at concentrations from 240 to 3400 times levels permitted by safety standards.
In February 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the contaminated water at Lejeune significantly increased the risk of multiple diseases including liver and kidney cancer and ALS. My brother-in-law died from ALS. He and his wife accidently learned of the Camp Lejeune contamination and when his wife investigated, she realized that her husband was dying from the exposure.
Now we learn that U.S. Navy practices have severely contaminated the water on Whidbey Island. One long-time resident just threw out his entire crop of winter vegetables after the Navy notified him that his well was contaminated above the safe limits. They Navy delivered him bottled water as a result of the contamination. How many bottles of water does it take to irrigate a crop, bathe in or wash your children’s diapers? How long have they known that the fire retardant foam they have sprayed for years on the runways, emptying into the water table, was poison?
As a person who seeks to increase food security, who cherishes growing food in our home garden, who loves buying produce from the local producers in the region, what does this mean for the farmers and the consumers? Shortly after hearing about the contaminated water, I went to a restaurant in Coupeville, very near the sites of the contamination. The waitress asked if I wanted water. I asked if it was from a local source, and she said “yes.” I said that I would have milk instead, and asked if she knew about the water contamination. She did not. At the time, it was unknown if Coupeville’s water was contaminated. It has since been found to be contaminated with the same chemicals but within the “safe levels.” What if the standard becomes stricter? What will these restaurants do for clean water?
So when is the militarization of our pristine area enough? When the whales have all died from the sonar testing? When the excruciating sounds and constant vibrations cause residents to leave their island homes? When the electromagnetic warfare training damages the wildlife, and sends our war veterans wanting peace in Olympic National Park into PTSD episodes? When Seattle and the State finally realize that their precious “get-away” islands and parks are being severely damaged by a constant military invasion of their beaches, marine life, air, food, and water? Is this what is meant by “homeland security?” Tell that to my neighbors who believe as San Juan County Commissioner Eleanor Howard said, “we need to be more careful with an island.”