Environmental Protection

Health Studies to Follow Latest Camp Lejeune Drinking Water Report

The ATSDR report says drinking water distributed by the Hadnot Point treatment plant contained excessive amounts of five VOCs from August 1953 through January 1985.

report released March 15 by ATSDR, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, is a key step in the agency's work to identify health effects caused by drinking water contamination at the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune. The report says drinking water distributed by the Hadnot Point treatment plant contained excessive amounts of five VOCs from August 1953 through January 1985: trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, trans-1,2-dichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and benzene. All except trans-1,2-dichloroethylene are classified as carcinogenic, and the ATSDR modeling and reconstruction process concluded the monthly contaminant levels were from 13 to 150 times higher during the period than the maximum contaminant level (MCL), which is the highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water.

The report notes the MCLs for all five of the studied VOCs were set after the contamination period, in 1989 to 1992.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., responded to the report by writing a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in which he urged them to hold hearings about the contamination. "This environmental catastrophe has many far reaching implications which deserve to be further explored by Congress, especially with the ongoing implementation of P.L 112-154, the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Victims of Camp Lejeune Act. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has conducted oversight on this important matter in years past, though regretfully not in the recent past. Today I respectfully request the Committee continue this tradition by holding hearings on the current issues surrounding the contamination at Camp Lejeune," Dingell wrote. "It is well established that as many as one million Marines and their families were exposed to toxic bathing and drinking water during their time at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Reports indicate the presence of known human carcinogens in the water at dangerously high levels, including benzene, PCE, TCE, and vinyl chloride. Specifically, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) reports on contamination at the Tarawa Terrace treatment plant concluded that the maximum level of PCE in the drinking water was 215 parts per billion, well exceeding the current limit of 5 parts per billion. This week, ATSDR released their Chapter A water modeling report for the Hadnot Point and Holcomb Boulevard sites. This devastating report gives us a more complete picture of the appalling levels of carcinogens in the groundwater that our Marines and their families were exposed to at Camp Lejeune. As a result, many residents of Camp Lejeune have died, contracted rare cancers, and have had their children born with horrible birth defects.

"The Committee should continue to conduct oversight of this issue, as was done in the past, to ensure ATSDR's remaining reports are done thoroughly, promptly, and without outside interference. Active oversight is needed to ensure that the mortality and birth defect studies are done in a timely manner and in keeping with good scientific practices. Hearings should also examine whether the state cancer registries are readily accessible to medical researchers and co-operate with such researchers," Dingell wrote.

The four follow-up reports by ATSDR to which Dingell's letter refers are health studies the agency says it expects to release in 2013 and 2014. They will examine birth defects and childhood cancers, the health of Marine Corps personnel and civilians, male breast cancers, and looking at all causes of death to determine whether there are links between cases and exposure to contaminated drinking water.

The Marine Corps' headquarters division of public affairs posted a release March 19 about the new report. "This release marks a major milestone towards the completion of scientific efforts pertaining to this issue and another step in ongoing efforts to provide comprehensive science-based answers to the health questions that have been raised. ATSDR will use these results and the results of a similar water model developed for the Tarawa Terrace area in 2007 to estimate chemical exposures for several of their on-going health studies," the news release states. "Since 1991, the Marine Corps has supported scientific and public health organizations that are studying these issues. We continue to support these initiatives and are working diligently to identify and notify individuals who, in the past, may have been exposed to the chemicals in drinking water. For more information about these efforts, or to register, please see: www.marines.mil/clwater/ or call (877) 261-9782."

The release says the Camp Lejeune drinking water currently meets all government standards and is testing more frequently than required.

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