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Mercury found in Camp Lejeune water plant pipe

Sep. 21, 2012 - 12:50PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 21, 2012 - 12:50PM  |  
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RALEIGH, N.C. Camp Lejeune, the coastal Marine base with a history of problems with its drinking water, shut down one of its water treatment plants after about 8 pounds of the type of the mercury found in thermometers was discovered last week in a pipe in the facility.

Elemental mercury was found Saturday in the pipe at Hadnot Point Water Treatment Plant during maintenance, base spokesman Nat Fahy said Friday. Tests conducted after the discovery showed none of the elemental mercury in the water, Fahy said.

The plant will stay offline during repairs that include inspecting the entire plant for mercury. Areas that normally get their water from Hadnot Point will instead be serviced by the Holcomb Boulevard plant.

About 1 pint of mercury, weighing 8 pounds, was found, Fahy said. A likely source is water pressure meters containing elemental mercury that were removed from the plant in the 1980s and replaced with digital meters.

Elemental mercury is found in items such as thermometers and fluorescent bulbs. The Environmental Protection Agency says it's generally not found in elevated levels in drinking water, and Fahy said any impact on human health is remote since this form of mercury doesn't dissolve in water.

It's also very dense, 10 times heavier than water.

Jerry Ensminger of Elizabethtown, a retired Marine whose daughter died of leukemia, questioned the almost one-week delay between when the mercury was found and when the Marines notified the public.

"These people don't have a good track record with their drinking water," said Ensminger, who led the fight to get information from the Marines about toxic drinking water on the base from the 1950s to the 1980s. "Something like this happens, then they delay putting the word out on it? That only raises people's suspicions."

Ensminger's daughter was one of the as many as 1 million people who health officials believe may have been exposed to tainted groundwater at the base over several decades. In August, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law providing health benefits to Marines and family members exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987.

Documents show Marines leaders were slow to respond when tests in the early 1980s showed higher than normal levels of contaminates in groundwater at the base, likely caused by leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner.

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