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"Lejeune baby" advocating for justice for those injured by toxic water aboard Camp Lejeune

Mike Partain.jpg
(Photo: Annette Weston-Riggs, Public Radio East)
Mike Partain was born aboard Camp Lejeune in 1967 but grew up in Florida and says he wasn’t aware there was a problem with the water until shortly after he was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, at the age of 39.

Among the advocates traveling North Carolina and across the country to speak out about the three-decade long contamination of drinking water at Camp Lejeune is a “Lejeune Baby.”

Mike Partain was born aboard the base in 1967 but grew up in Florida and says he wasn’t aware there was a problem with the water until shortly after he was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, at the age of 39.

“No one told us that I had been exposed and they knew as early as the late 1990s that I had been,” he said, “So, I had surgery, they removed my right breast, I went through chemotherapy – and right before I started chemotherapy is when I found out about Camp Lejeune. My father just happened to hear Jerry testify in Congress about the children who had been exposed between January 1968 and December 1987.”

Jerry is retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, who by that time had been fighting for those harmed by the toxic water for nearly a decade following the death of his daughter from Leukemia.

“Janey was the only one of my four daughters to have been conceived, carried or born while we were living on base, and Janey was exposed for nearly the entire first trimester of that pregnancy before we left to go to Parris Island,” he said.

A few years later, doctors discovered Janey had cancer.

Jerry said, “When Janey was six years old she was diagnosed with leukemia and two-and-a-half years later she died.”

Partain said many other men who lived or served at Camp Lejeune who have also been diagnosed with male breast cancer.

“Since then, I have found over 125 men who had the single commonality of male breast cancer and exposure to the water at the base,” he said, “It’s the largest male breast cancer cluster that’s ever been identified.”

In August, President Joe Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Act as part of the broader PACT Act; it allows people to sue and recover damages for harm from exposure to the contaminated water if they lived or worked aboard Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days, including those that were exposed to the drinking water in-utero and meet certain other conditions.

More than that, Partain says, it’s also about accountability.

“They poisoned a million Marines, sailors, their families and base employees between 1953 and 1987 and if they’re not held accountable for this type of conduct it’s going to happen again,” he said.

The CDC has estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million people were exposed to the contaminated water for more than 30 years, through 1987 when the last of several contaminated wells were closed.

On Thursday, another town hall will be held in Raleigh at the Hibiscus Event Space beginning at 6 p.m. Another is planned for Beaufort at the VFW Post 8760 on November 17.

Annette is originally a Midwest gal, born and raised in Michigan, but with career stops in many surrounding states, the Pacific Northwest, and various parts of the southeast. She has been involved in the media industry in eastern North Carolina for more than three years. An award-winning journalist and mother of four, Annette moved to ENC to be closer to family – in particular, her two young grandchildren. It’s possible that a -27 day with a -68 windchill in Minnesota may have also played a role in that decision. In her spare time, Annette does a lot of toddler and baby cuddling, reading, designing costumes for children’s theater and producing the coolest Halloween costumes anyone has ever seen. She has also worked as a diversity and inclusion facilitator serving school districts and large corporations. It’s the people that make this beautiful area special, and she wants to share those stories that touch the hearts of others. If you have a story idea to share, please reach out by email to westona@cravencc.edu.