Contaminated Water Exposure at Camp Lejeune Linked to Adverse Birth Outcomes

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found pregnant women's exposure to volatile organic compounds, perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and benzene in drinking water at the base had a higher risk of pre-term birth or children with forms of fetal growth retardation.

A study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry finds women's exposure during pregnancy to volatile organic compounds, perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and benzene in drinking water at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina may be associated with adverse birth outcomes. The study was published Nov. 20 in the journal Environmental Health.

The study suggests women who were pregnant and were exposed to the contaminated drinking water between 1968 and 1985 were more likely to have an increased risk of pre-term birth or children with forms of fetal growth retardation. The findings also apply to women who gave birth before 1968 if they were exposed to similar levels of drinking water contaminated with VOCs. The adverse birth outcomes varied by type of exposure:

  • Exposure to perchloroethylene in the contaminated water was associated with pre-term birth, that is, birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. The strongest association was seen when women were exposed during the second trimester (fourth through sixth month of pregnancy).
  • Exposure to trichloroethylene in the water was associated with children born small for gestational age, term low birth weight, and reduced mean birth weight. The risk of having a child with term low birth weight grew with increasing levels of exposure to TCE during the second trimester.
  • Exposure to benzene also was associated with term low birth weight, and the risk grew with increasing levels of exposure to benzene throughout the pregnancy.

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