News Feature | December 16, 2013

Birth Defects Linked To Contaminated Marine Base Water

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

lejeunereg

Contaminated water at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina may be a cause of neural tube defects (NTDs) in some children, according to a long-awaited study. 

The study from the Centers for Disease Control found "associations between TCE and benzene in Camp Lejeune drinking water and NTDs," the report said. 

Survey participants reported "35 NTDs, 42 oral clefts, and 29 childhood hematopoietic cancers," the study said. CDC "made extensive efforts to obtain medical information from health providers to confirm reported cases.  ATSDR was able to confirm 15 NTDs, 24 oral clefts, and 13 cancers." 

The effects were observed "in children born from 1968 to 1985 whose mothers were exposed to contaminated drinking water in their residences at Camp Lejeune." 

The study also observed "weaker associations" between "first trimester exposure to PCE, vinyl chloride, and 1,2- DCE," and childhood hematopoietic cancers such as leukemia.

According to the Associated Press, "a prior CDC study cited a February 1985 level for trichloroethylene of 18,900 parts per billion in one Lejeune drinking water well — nearly 4,000 times today's maximum allowed health limit of 5 ppb. Testing also found high levels of benzene, a fuel additive."

The contamination was caused by "a leaky on-base fuel depot and an off-base dry cleaner," the report said.

In the nearly 30 years since the contamination was first publicly disclosed, "military officials have repeatedly issued public statements downplaying health risks from drinking the tainted water prior to the closure of the most contaminated wells," the AP said. 

The base kept using the wells for years even after tainted water was discovered, the AP reported. "The most highly contaminated wells were closed in 1984 and 1985, after a round of more extensive testing found dangerous concentrations of toxins associated with degreasing solvents and gasoline."

Lejeune spokeswoman Captain Maureen Krebs said in a statement published by Reuters that the Marine Corps has supported attempts to study the effects of the tainted water. 

"These results provide additional information in support of ongoing efforts to provide comprehensive science-based answers to the health questions that have been raised," she said. 

A law passed last year attempted to help those affected by the water. The law provides "medical care to former Marines and their dependents who were exposed to the contaminated wells between 1957 and 1987. The law covers 15 conditions including miscarriage, female infertility, leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and several other forms of cancer," an editorial in Star News Online said. 

Image credit: "080508-N-4236E-168 [CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (May 8, 2008)," © 2008 Marion Doss, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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