WASHINGTON — A man who served at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for nearly two years in the 1950s has sued the federal government for $16 million, saying poisonous water at the base caused his cancer.
Joel P. Shriberg of Pinehurst, N.C., was diagnosed in 2004 with male breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy on his left breast. The cancer has since metastasized to his lung, according to the suit he filed last week in the U.S. District Court's Eastern District of North Carolina.
Shriberg is one of more than 65 men across the United States who've been diagnosed with male breast cancer after serving at Lejeune. He couldn't be reached for comment.
According to his lawsuit, he was a clerk with the 155th Howitzer Division from September 1957 through April 1959, when he was honorably discharged with the rank of colonel.
That was when, according to federal and state documents, poisons that included tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene and benzene contaminated Camp Lejeune's water system. The contamination lasted until the mid-1980s.
The contamination violated military standards that included Navy drinking water standards of 1946, the lawsuit claims.
Federal scientists have established that the water was hazardous, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun establishing some links on a case-by-case basis between the water and some diseases, including male breast cancer.
The suit says the Marine Corps failed to protect Lejeune residents during the period of contamination and that it's been "passive" about notifying Marines and their families since. The military never contacted Shriberg, according to his suit. He learned about and signed up with the Marines' water contamination registry last April.
He also charged that the Marine Corps worked to cover up the contamination and its impacts. The suit cites newspaper articles, congressional testimony and previous court decisions.
"Mr. Shriberg's reasonable due diligence in discovering the cause of his cancer has been actively thwarted by defendant," the suit says. "There is a long history of lost documents, deceptive lab tests and poor management at Camp Lejeune."
Shriberg filed a complaint with the Navy Department last April after he learned about the contamination through news reports. When that claim wasn't adjudicated within six months, he became eligible to file a lawsuit within federal court, the suit says.
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