By DANA LIEBELSON
Today, accusations were released from the author of the report on the Camp Lejeune water contamination, detailing how the scientific integrity of the report was compromised by redactions requested by the Navy/Marine Corps and granted by Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Moreover, Robert E. Faye, the hydrologist and civil engineer who authored the report, says ATSDR Administrator Dr. Thomas Frieden gave Members of Congress “false and misleading” statements regarding the scientific content of the report and its redactions.
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who has long been an advocate for Camp Lejeune victims and was one of the Members of Congress asking ATSDR for answers about the redactions, released a letter that he sent to Dr. Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Administrator for ATSDR, expressing his ongoing “concern regarding the integrity of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) Camp Lejeune water contamination reports.”
As you may remember, in January, POGO and allies raised concerns about the legal justifications for the redactions—specifically, the fact that the Navy didn’t even mention the new law that ultimately will determine whether the location of Camp Lejeune water wells should be withheld as “critical infrastructure information” or released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) because the public interest is greater than the need to secure the information.
Sen. Burr notes the congressional interest in the redactions in his letter and that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next week to look into the government’s process for determining whether this information can be legally withheld. In fact, Jerry Ensminger—the Marine who lost his daughter to leukemia and has become a tireless seeker of the truth about what happened at Camp Lejeune—will testify.
Sen. Burr asked Frieden to “personally assure [Burr] that all past, present, and future ATSDR reports on Camp Lejeune meet the highest standards of scientific completeness and credibility” and “conform with legal precedent and the Freedom of Information Act.”
POGO would like to second Sen. Burr’s call for these assurances— as well as his request for the Department of Health and Human Services (which houses ATSDR) Inspector General to investigate.
Sen. Burr released crucial evidence that it’s time for the IG to get involved: a letter from Faye who authored the ATSDR report in question. According to Faye’s letter to Dr. Portier, director of ATSDR, there were “false and misleading statements” in Frieden’s letter to a Member of Congress that commented on the scientific content of the report.
“I want to state for the record herein that, as a matter of professional ethics and common sense, I did and do totally disagree with ATSDR’s policy decision to redact data,” Faye wrote.
So according to the letter, the scientific author of ATSDR’s report believes that the redaction of well coordinate data from the report “calls into question the reproducibility and scientific integrity of 1.) my analyses, 2.) the [report] in its entirety, and 3.) subsequent water-modeling reports.”
This is amazingly ironic, given the fact that POGO also received a letter today from Dr. Frieden on behalf of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that says: “Please be assured that the redacted report includes all scientifically essential information relevant to the use of the document (emphasis added).”
Just so you have the background—the CDC letter is in response to POGO’s letter with partners to HHS, urging Sebelius to ensure the public release of the unredacted ATSDR report to the full extent allowable under the law and FOIA.
“The release of this report, however, was not in response to a FOIA request,” CDC wrote.
Obviously, POGO is aware of this—but FOIA is what ultimately governs what is releasable to the public and incidentally, we have made a FOIA request that asks for the unredacted version of the report. We’re very curious to see what the outcome of that request, and ATSDR’s response.
Ensminger told POGO: “What really bothers me is that now CDC and ATSDR are using the same excuses made by the Navy and Marine Corps that tells me that there is a collusion taking place between the polluter and the investigator.”
Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.