On January 27, 2012, U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) sent a letter to Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regarding the legal basis for removing certain information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) scientific report on water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Senators Hagan (R-NC), Nelson (D-FL) and Rubio (R-FL) as well as Representatives Miller (D-NC) and Dingell (D-MI) joined him in signing the letter.
The letter expressed concerns about the United States Marine Corps' (USMC) request that the ATSDR redact locations of Camp Lejeune's active installation water system infrastructure due to national security concerns. This information has been publically available for several years, and it is unclear why it suddenly became a security threat and had to be removed from the report released by the ATSDR on January 19, 2012. Removing this information may hamper ongoing and future studies regarding the Marines, Sailors, and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune and were exposed to Benzene, TCE and other dangerous chemicals in their tap water.
Dr. Frieden responded to the letter on February 15, 2012 and stated that he had decided to comply with the USMC's request to redact the locations.
Senator Burr sent a letter to Dr. Frieden yesterday questioning his decision.
Today, he released the following statement on his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SenatorRichardBurr
"Dr. Frieden's decision to comply with the U. S. Marine Corps' recent request to redact information from the ATSDR's studies on Camp Lejeune that remains publically available in other sources and has been so for many years is extremely troubling. This decision to remove critical scientific information raises concerns about the transparency, integrity and merit of the ATSDR's report and its findings, which will be released this year.
"When I met with Dr. Frieden to discuss the studies in 2010, I told him that I would do everything in my power to ensure that ATSDR would be able to conduct and complete its studies unimpeded by the Department of Navy.
"Since I am concerned that these redactions may jeopardize the integrity of the studies, I have taken a cautionary step and requested that the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services examine ATSDR's activities in this matter.
"In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing this month to examine the process the government uses to determine to what extent public information can be withheld from the public for national security concerns. Withholding information from scientific studies for reasons of national security without adequate legal justification sets a dangerous precedent. In this case, it could make it more difficult for ATSDR to deny current and future requests from the Department of Defense (DoD) and could lead to the removal of more information from its reports on Camp Lejeune that the public has an inherent right to know.
"We owe it to the Marines, Sailors, and the entire Camp Lejeune community who were exposed to harmful chemicals without their knowledge to continue a transparent investigation of how they were affected to spur greater health awareness and provide them with the answers and care they deserve."