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New Study Finds More Cancers are linked to tainted water at Camp Lejeune

 Military and civilian personnel who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in the mid-1970s and ’80s are more likely to be diagnosed with certain cancers compared with those stationed at a similar military base in California during the same period, a highly anticipated new government study shows.

The study could lead to an expanded list of conditions for which veterans and civilians who worked on the base can receive government compensation.

Drinking water at Camp Lejeune was heavily contaminated with a number of cancer-causing industrial chemicals, including trichloroethylene or TCE, vinyl chloride and benzene, from 1953 to 1985. Hundreds of thousands of service members in the Marines and Navy as well as civilians employed at the base were unwittingly exposed to the chemicals when they drank the water, inhaled steam in the shower and even simply washed their hands.

Previous studies have shown that people exposed to the contaminated water there were more likely to die of certain blood and organ cancers and about 70% more likely to get Parkinson’s disease. There have also been questions about birth defects and infertility in people who were exposed.

The landmark new research was launched by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015. It looked at the risk of developing cancer more than a decade after serving on the base.

The study was the subject of a court fight last year after attorneys for people who believe they were harmed by Camp Lejeune’s water asked a federal judge to compel the government to release the study findings.

The clock was ticking. Under a federal law passed in 2022, people who believe they’ve been harmed by contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune have until August 10, 2024, to file a claim with the government for compensation. So far, more than 160,000 claims have been filed.

“We were scared that this study was going to kind of languish within the CDC until after all the litigation took place, so this should help out the families quite a bit,” said Michael Partain, 56, who was born on the base at Camp Lejeune in 1968.

The judges overseeing the case declined to force the release of the study, and the plaintiffs dropped an appeal of that decision this month after assurances from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the CDC known as ATSDR, that the findings would be released by the end of the month.

At a news briefing on the study Tuesday, Dr. Aaron Bernstein, director of ATSDR, defended the agency’s timeline for the release of the study.

“I’m well aware that there are many legal issues surrounding Camp Lejeune. But our purpose at CDC in this work and ATSDR is to ensure that we’re doing the best possible science, and I know that we have done exactly as our process at CDC would have us do to ensure that this piece of science went through the routine processes of internal review as well as external peer review,” Bernstein said.

The study was released on Partain’s birthday. It made for a pretty good gift, he said.

Partain and a veteran, Jerry Ensminger, 71, have spent years working to get the government to recognize and compensate sick veterans who served at Camp Lejeune. Ensminger’s wife lived on the base when she was pregnant with their second daughter, Janey, who developed leukemia at age 6 and later died.

Partain was diagnosed with male breast cancer when he was just 39 years old. He believes that his cancer was connected to his exposure to toxins in the womb.

A link between male breast cancer and the chemical contamination at Camp Lejeune has been suspected for years. The new study showed that this rare type of cancer was indeed significantly more common in people who lived and worked on the base compared with those who served or worked at a different base where the water was not contaminated.

Connecting toxic chemicals to cancers

To date, the Department of Justice officially recognizes nine health conditions as being related to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune: kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemias, bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease and systemic sclerosis. This list comes from research by ATSDR into the health effects of chemicals dumped into the water supply there. The US Department of Veterans Affairs also uses this research to determine eligibility criteria for health care and other benefits.