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 Hospital.

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 son’s birth.

“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 gestation.

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 Center to learn more about the Lejeune Water Contamination. Contact military reporter Hope Hodge at 910-219-8453 or


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