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Camp Lejeune-What Happened?

Here’s a Summary….

In the early 1980s, two water-supply systems on the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were found to be contaminated with the industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). The water systems were supplied by the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water-treatment plants, which served enlisted-family housing, barracks for unmarried service personnel, base administrative offices, schools, and recreational areas. The Hadnot Point water system also served the base hospital and an industrial area and supplied water to housing on the Holcomb Boulevard water system (full-time until 1972 and periodically thereafter).

PCE was the primary contaminant found in the wells serving the Tarawa Terrace system. The chemical was used by an off-base dry cleaner (ABC One-Hour Cleaners), and the groundwater became contaminated with PCE as a result of spills and improper disposal practices. Contamination of the wells from that source is estimated to have begun as early as 1953, the year when dry-cleaning operations began. There were also other on-base sources of contamination in the Tarawa Terrace system that had a smaller impact on the water supply. The contamination of the Hadnot Point water supply was more complex and involved multiple sources and multiple contaminants. The primary contaminant found in those wells since monitoring began in the 1980s was TCE. It is likely that multiple sources contributed to the TCE contamination, including on-base spills at industrial sites and leaks from underground storage tanks and drums at dumps and storage lots. The Hadnot Point water-treatment plant began operating in 1943, but no estimates have yet been made of when the contamination began. Wells in both systems that were contaminated in the early 1980s were closed in the period November 1984–May 1985, and the entire Tarawa Terrace water-treatment plant was closed in 1987.

There has been considerable public controversy over the potential health consequences for former residents who were exposed to the contaminated water. TCE and PCE are known to have toxic effects in animals and in humans, so it is important to understand the scale and extent of exposure that occurred at the base to assess effects on the health of former residents. Only a few studies have been performed specifically on former residents of the base. To supplement those evaluations and to help to inform decisions about addressing health claims, the U.S. Navy was directed by Congress (Public Law 109-364, Section 318) to ask the National Research Council to address independently questions about whether any health outcomes are associated with past contamination of the water supply at Camp Lejeune. The National Research Council assembled a multidisciplinary committee of environmental scientists, toxicologists, epidemiologists, and biostatisticians to review the scientific evidence on associations between adverse health effects and historical data on prenatal, childhood, and adult exposures to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. The committee was asked to focus its attention on toxicologic and epidemiologic literature on TCE and PCE and to consider studies of Camp Lejeune residents and other populations exposed to the contaminants of concern and proposals for additional studies of Camp Lejeune residents.

To address its task, the committee divided its investigation into two major categories: assessing exposure to contaminants in the water supply and assessing the possible health effects associated with the contaminants. The reviews were then integrated to ascertain whether conclusions could be drawn about the likelihood that outcomes in people who lived or worked in the affected areas of the base were caused by the contaminated water supplies. The contribution of past and current studies of the Camp Lejeune population was evaluated, as was the potential contributions of future research on this population.