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CDC: Water at Camp Lejeune linked to birth defects

Posted December 6, 2013

— A long-awaited study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a link between tainted tap water at Camp Lejeune and increased risk of serious birth defects and childhood cancers.

The authors of the study released late Thursday by the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry warned it is based on a small sample size and cannot prove exposure to the chemicals caused specific individuals to become ill.

But the study did conclude that babies born to mothers who drank Lejeune tap water while pregnant were four times more likely than women who lived off-base to have such serious birth defects as spina bifida. Babies whose mothers were exposed also had a slightly elevated risk of such childhood cancers as leukemia, according to the results.

Marine Corps symbol at Camp Lejeune Families receive answers about contaminated water at Camp Lejeune

The study surveyed the parents of 12,598 children born at Lejeune between 1968 and 1985, the year most contaminated drinking water wells were closed. They reported 106 cases of serious birth defects and childhood hematopoietic cancers. Of those, researchers said they could obtain medical records to confirm the diagnoses in only 52 cases.

"This report, while unsurprising, is deeply troubling and reinforces the need to provide adequate health care to veterans and their families who served at Camp Lejeune," U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said in a statement. "The veterans selflessly signed up to serve their country with the understanding they might be harmed abroad, yet they never imagined their children would be exposed to harmful chemicals at home."

Burr and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan backed the Camp Lejeune Veterans and Family Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law last year.

The law calls for medical care and screening for Marines and their families, but not civilians, exposed between 1957 and 1987. It covers 15 diseases or conditions, including female infertility, miscarriage, leukemia and multiple myeloma, as well as bladder, breast, esophageal, kidney and lung cancers.

"This study, which provides some answers to veterans from Camp Lejeune whose children have suffered from neural tube birth defects and childhood cancers, is further evidence that those who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune should receive the health care they need and deserve," Hagan said in a statement.

Epidemiologist Richard W. Clapp, who serves on a federal board that has reviewed the Lejeune contamination, said the links found through the study might "appear to be weak" due to the relatively small sample size. But he said the findings are important because they show strong evidence the water that Marines and their families drank, cooked with and bathed in might have made some sick.

"The fact that there was anything found is pretty important," said Clapp, professor emeritus at Boston University's School of Public Health. "This is an insensitive tool that we use here, these epidemiological studies. So the fact that they found anything is sort of remarkable."

The study looked back through time and was designed to see if there was a link between exposure to certain chemicals and certain health problems that developed later. This type of study is often used to investigate disease outbreaks, when health officials are trying to identify possible reasons for the illnesses.

There are no records to measure how much tainted water those surveyed consumed. Therefore, the study had to use complex modeling to gauge how much of the chemicals they could have been exposed to. The study also did not look at the health effects on adults that drank the water. More than 80 men with Lejeune ties have been diagnosed with an extremely rare form of breast cancer.

In the nearly three decades since the contamination was first disclosed to the public, military officials have repeatedly issued public statements downplaying health risks from drinking the tainted water prior to the closure of the most contaminated wells.

A brief statement issued Thursday by Lejeune spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs contained no such disclaimers. It stressed that the water currently flowing from the base's taps is routinely tested and safe to drink.

"These results provide additional information in support of ongoing efforts to provide comprehensive science-based answers to the health questions that have been raised," the statement said. "The Marine Corps continues to support these initiatives and we are working diligently to identify and notify individuals who, in the past, may have been exposed to the chemicals in drinking water."

Krebs said Friday she couldn't comment on the new report beyond the written statement.

Records reviewed by The Associated Press show military authorities continued to rely on the wells for years after testing suggested the water was contaminated. 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.

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 ground water contamination was traced to two primary sources — a leaky on-base fuel depot and a nearby dry cleaner. In prior public statements, Marine officials have emphasized the contamination that came from outside the base. But the newly released study found the greatest negative health impacts to be associated with benzene, which came from the on-base Hadnot Point tank farm built during World War II.

The 2012 law was passed after years of advocacy by former Marines who blamed the contamination for negative health impacts, efforts that were often met with strong resistance from the Marine Corps.

Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine drill instructor, lost his 9-year-old daughter Janey to leukemia in 1985. He said the study results are a vindication of what he's been saying for nearly 20 years, but it won't bring his daughter back.

"Nothing ever gives you comfort when you lose a child," Ensminger said Friday. "I think that's the worst thing that can happen to a human being ... to watch them go through the hell they go though. That's something that never leaves you."



ATSDR's Camp Lejeune page http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/

Veterans Administration page for Lejeune families: http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book/benefits_contacts.asp


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  • toxendine3 Dec 10, 2013

    They also need to check out Fort Braggs water and soil. We see a lot of patients from there at UNC born with congenital heart disease.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    sunshine1040 - "This was news in the 70s and 80s they have since had to clean up their act but we are talking US Government here and we know how they do most things."

    To not do something for an overly long time is one thing, to completely deny there's a problem is something else again.

    I was in the USMC from 69-72 and heard rumors of LaJeune's water then. It was rumored that when you'd draw water from a tap, you could literally smell the benzene in it. It was rumored you could see slicks of it on the top of drawn bathwater and even in water on the ground pooling after rain storms.

    But the base leaders kept saying it was safe and constantly denied there was anything wrong with that water for decades...probably while they and theirs lived off-base in housing with safe water.


  • sunshine1040 Dec 6, 2013

    This was news in the 70s and 80s they have since had to clean up their act but we are talking US Government here and we know how they do most things.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    "Call the State Attorney General and demand that he perform his duty to the public. Investigate and prosecute because poisoning resulting in death is a CRIME...not business as usual!"

    This happened on a military reservation.

    A civilian AG has no business there without receiving the commanding officer's permission first.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    kyrarobinson - "I am one of the "babies" born at Camp Lejeune. I was born in 1981. This is an endless fight with them. Not only was a form with a spinal tumor (a form of spina bifida) I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer on Jan 4th, 2013. I am now cancer free. But my dad is Stage 4 Melanoma and had Stage 1 Lung cancer. My mom had Stage 3 Colon Cancer in 2010. All 3 of us are linked through the contamination."

    I am so sorry and am praying for you and your family.

    This is no way a government should treat any of its people, especially its people in service to the country and their families.

    Someone (several someones) really needs to be charged in this.

    Again, praying for you and yours. May God help you. Our government certainly didn't do so.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    greg - "One should always filter water these days especially on a military base in which even military grade white labeled mosquito repellent would melt the plastic off watches."

    This started over 50 years ago. Water filters weren't as available as they are now. Plus, there are often regulations about altering anything within military base housing and that would include the plumbing.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    AliceBToklas - "This story is about what we allowed to happen to our Marines and their families."


  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    NotAgain - "The reason this keeps happening to us is because we neglect to show a consistent disregard for human life because we are more interested in saving or making $$"

    This was a military cover-up that went on for over 5 decades pal.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    NotAgain - "What cause this in the first place was too much regulation….. remember, vote for me. I will get rid of this regulation and save us all…."

    You really need to study the history of this before commenting.

    This had nothing to do with politics or with governmental regulations.

    It had everything to do with a dry cleaners business on base dumping used water tainted with dry cleaning fluids into the water table that those on base used to drink from through the base provided plumbing at their duty stations and in their military housing on base.

    It had to do with a cover-up by military leaders who considered the military personnel who served below them mere numbers that could easily be replaced, military leaders who also showed no regard for the dependents of their military personnel living with them in base housing.

    The base leaders KNEW it, permitted it to happen and covered it up for decades and those leaders should be called to answer for that cover-up in a court of la

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Dec 6, 2013

    As a former Marine, I think it's shameful that this went on for over 50 years, and the majority of the upper echelon of that base throughout that 50 years KNEW that water was a problem and they knew that it was connected to the on-base dry cleaners.

    Every single one of them should be charged with negligence and with manslaughter for every person who died with illnesses and diseases connected to that tainted water.

    Praying for all those affected.