American activist Erin Brockovich and others visit Jacksonville for Camp Lejeune justice tour

Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 11:44 PM EDT
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) -Almost three months after President Biden’s signing of the long-awaited PACT Act bill, a group of advocates and victims of water contamination at Camp Lejeune are starting a nationwide tour of town hall meetings.

The series of meetings offer information to those impacted by the toxic water so they know their legal rights and Thursday was the first stop of the tour in Jacksonville.

When people like Mike Partain, who was conceived and born on the base, think of Camp Lejeune they think of grief, anger, fear, and illness.

“When I was in college, I had a gun put to my head and I was scared then,” Partain said. “I remember looking at the revolver and seeing the bullets in the chamber. I asked myself, do you hear the sound or do you die first but I tell you one thing I’ve never been more scared than when I was sat down by my doctor and they said you have cancer, it’s serious.”

Camp Lejeune is the largest Marine base on the east coast and for decades, high levels of toxic chemicals leached into the groundwater causing some people to have severe lifelong illnesses.

Camp Lejeune advocate Jerry Ensminger, served at the base but lost his daughter Janey in the process after she was diagnosed with leukemia following his retirement and he’s been fighting ever since.

“I heard about the water contamination and the only reason I found out about it was because I retired here,” Ensminger said. “I retired in 1994 and I didn’t know about the water contamination until after I retired. When I heard that it was like God opened up the sky and said hey Jerry, here is a glimmer of hope.”

The town hall meeting held Thursday night in Jacksonville provided people who were impacted by the toxic water, with a chance to hear from fellow victims like Mike Partain.

At the age of 39, Partain was diagnosed with male breast cancer, which led to him joining the fight to uncover the story of contamination and locate other men who also developed breast cancer after spending time on the base.

“I went through a right mastectomy where they removed my right chest and underwent chemotherapy,” Partain said. “Shortly after my diagnosis and surgery, my father happened to see a story on CNN of Jerry testifying about Camp Lejeune and how they were studying the children born there between January 1968 to December 1985. I was one of those kids.”

American activist Erin Brockovich joined Ensminger and Partain in seeking justice for Camp Lejeune back in 2012.

Although she’s known for helping win a settlement for victims in a separate case of water poisoning by Pacific Gas and Electric, she says Camp Lejeune is bigger than her.

“Jerry and Mike are such the face of the Camp Lejeune story and anytime there’s an environmental contamination military or otherwise, people will usually call me, and they just think of myself and the film and my association with water. I’m a military mom and this is just close to my heart.”

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