October 19, 2009
© Photographer: Kiryay | Agency: Dreamstime.com
Concerns arise over children adopted during Lejeune water contamination
October 18, 2009
More than 7,500 former military and family members believe their health
problems can be traced to exposure to contaminated drinking water aboard
Camp Lejeune from the 1950s through the 1980s.
But Roberta MacDonald believes there could be thousands more who may never
know they were exposed. MacDonald, the chairwoman for the North Carolina
Coalition for Adoption Reform, has worked for years to overturn the state’s
closed adoption policies, which stipulate that birth parents are granted
full anonymity — and that birth and medical records are sealed to children
once they are adopted, even as they reach adulthood.
Children who were conceived, carried or born on base before the 1990s and
then relinquished for adoption might never know they had been there. Until
recently, birth certificates of adoptees were altered to reflect the
residences of adoptive parents, rather than the true location of a child’s
birth. The original birth certificates of those adopted in North Carolina
are sealed forever.
Diane McCarty is, therefore, worried about the health of the son she placed
for adoption. McCarty, a former Marine, was stationed on base for parts of
1967 and 1968 and spent the first trimester of her pregnancy there. At the
time, pregnant women were discharged from the Corps; so McCarty moved off
base following the first trimester, returning to Jacksonville only briefly
to give birth. Her baby, a boy, was born March 3, 1969, at Onslow Memorial
McCarty, who now lives in Colorado Springs, lost touch with many
Jacksonville contacts in the decades that passed. She had other children,
but she decided she also wanted to find her biological son and pass family
medical information on to him. In the course of that search, she met
MacDonald, who was the first to give her information about the suspected
link between bad water on base and a number of diseases.
“I started reading about it and, of course, became a little alarmed about
it,” McCarty said.
She registered her information with a number of agencies and began to look
for local records that might give her further information. But her search
was short-lived. Neither Onslow County nor the state had records of her
“Apparently, when a baby is born and adopted it is recorded and then crossed
out,” she said.
MacDonald calls the North Carolina adoption system a “good old boy network,”
structured during a time when adoption was stigmatized to protect adoptive
parents. But instead, she said, the laws enmesh adopted children in a
lifelong net of red tape that prevents them from learning their history and
may even harm their health.
“Health problems don’t just affect the adoptee, they affect the generations
thereafter,” MacDonald, herself an adoptee, said. “I feel very strongly
these adoptees really need to know that they were born in Jacksonville. They
need to know there’s a possibility their birth parents were stationed at
Camp Lejeune, and they should be able to get their records open to find out
what their medical history is.”
According to officials at the Onslow County Department of Social Services,
current statutes allows adoptees over the age of 21 to request birth and
family information through a “confidential intermediary” if the agency that
handled his or her adoption is willing to participate.
Adoptees with proven medical issues can also petition in court for certain
records to be opened. MacDonald said she knows of adoptees who have
petitioned and been denied.
It’s difficult to know how many children were adopted in Onslow County
during the time of the contamination, and virtually impossible to discover
how many of those might have been on Camp Lejeune after birth or during
MacDonald has spent hours combing through original county records to get an
approximate count and said the science is less than exact.
“You go into that birth index and you go through it page by page, and you
look for blacked-out names, exed-out names, whited-out names. Those are
adoptees,” she said.
In the Onslow County birth records from 1966 to 1979, and from 1980 to 1987,
she found more than 2,000 children placed for adoption.
Since McCarty’s adoption was privately contracted, she thinks she may never
be able to find her son and give him the vital information about where he
was carried and born. But she plans to write letters to local newspapers and
post on blogs related to the water contamination in the hope that he will
happen to find her.
But for others with similar stories, she hopes that raising awareness may
help to make the process a little easier. She also encourages adoptees to
search for information about their birth parents, to find out if they had
contact with Camp Lejeune and its contaminated water.
“I have no idea how many women Marines were affected, but there has to be
some other than myself,” she said. “These children need to know.”
Visit the Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Resource
learn more about the Lejeune Water Contamination.