Thursday, March 14, 2013

Contamination at NC Marine base lasted 60 years

Over the span of 35 years, between 500,000 and 1 million people were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, one of the most storied Marine bases in the country. A group of men have banded together saying that their surprising breast cancer diagnoses are linked to Camp Lejeune's contaminated water. Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

By Maggie Fox, Senior Writer, NBC News

Some of the wells that supplied drinking water to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were contaminated by cancer-causing solvents for as long as 60 years, a new federal report shows.

Month-by-month calculations show that Marines and their families at the base drank and bathed in water tainted with trichloroethylene (TCE) from 1948 through 2008. Other water sources were contaminated with benzene from 1951 to 2008, the report shows.

Federal officials have known for years that the base’s water supply was badly contaminated, from fuel leaks and probably from a dry-cleaning plant as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million people were exposed to the contaminated water from 1953 to 1987, when the last of several contaminated wells were closed. The new report takes the estimates back five years earlier.

Marines have complained they and their children suffered cancer, including breast cancer and fatal leukemia, because of the contamination. NBC’s Rock Center reported on the cases in February.

The chemicals found in the water are linked not only with cancer, but with aplastic anemia, kidney disease, infertility, lupus, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. The findings mean people who lived at the base during the affected times can seek compensation and medical care from the federal government.

The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) came up with the projections after making measurements of known leakage rates and sources of the chemicals into wells that supplied the base’s Hadnot Point Water Treatment Plant. It opened in 1942.

“The ATSDR is conducting epidemiological studies to evaluate the potential for health effects from exposures to volatile organic compounds [tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (1,2-tDCE), vinyl chloride (VC), and benzene] in inished water at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina,” it said. Most of the chemicals are certain or probable cancer-causing agents.

"Basically, it's vindication and confirmation for what I've been saying for nearly 16 years," retired Marine Staff Sgt. Jerry Ensminger told the Associated Press. Ensminger, who attended a briefing on the report on Thursday, believces the contamination cause the leukemia that killed his 9-year-old daughter Janey. "The truth is finally coming out."

ATSDR director Dr. Christopher Portier says investigators will use the data to help assess the health risks to people who lived at the base. Different water sources had differing levels of contamination over the years.

The United States Marine Corps started routinely testing tap water in 1980. Officials have said it took them four years to determine which wells were contaminated, and that once those wells were identified, they were shut down immediately

“The level [of contamination] in the drinking water was the highest that I've ever seen,” said Dr. Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts. “I've been working on this kind of thing for 30 years. I have never heard of a community that's had the levels of contaminants that they had at Camp Lejeune.”

He has examined the data from Camp Lejeune and says he believes the contamination and the cancers are related. “The cluster of disease-- for example, male breast cancer-- may also turn out to be the highest that's been seen anywhere,” Clapp told Rock Center in February.

The VA has a website for people who think they may have been affected.

Under a law signed Aug. 6, 2012 , veterans and family members who served on active duty or resided at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between Jan. 1, 1957 and Dec. 31, 1987 may be eligible for medical care through VA for 15 health conditions,” the site reads.

They include lung, breast and bladder cancer, leukemia, infertility, kidney damage and other conditions.


Marine Corps response to NBC Rock Center story

Contractor underreported levels of chemicals

Congress probes toxic water at Marine base

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