ATLANTA- A study into the deaths of full-time civilian workers employed at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from 1973 to 1985 found that the workers faced health risks due to contaminated water. The study, released today by researchers at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, found that the workers were at an elevated risk to develop kidney cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer, rectal cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
The study looked at 4,647 full-time civilian workers employed at the base and at a comparison group of similar workers employed at employed at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, during the same time period. The drinking water supply at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethlylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE), benzene, and two contaminants that are formed when TCE or PCE degrade in ground water: 1,2-dichloroethylene and vinyl chloride. Camp Pendleton did not have a contaminated drinking water supply.
Between 1979 and 2008, there were 654 deaths in the Camp Lejeune group of civilian workers and 869 deaths in the Camp Pendleton civilian worker group. Key findings included these:
- Compared with the Camp Pendleton workers, the Camp Lejeune workers had higher mortality rates for the following causes of death:
- Cancers of the female breast, kidney, lung, oral cavity, prostate, and rectum
- Kidney diseases
- Multiple myeloma
- Parkinson’s disease
- The higher rates of cancer and Parkinson’s disease were mainly among the Camp Lejeune civilian workers with higher cumulative exposures to the contaminants.
- The workers’ exposures were based on the workplace location, duration of employment, and the monthly average estimates of the contaminants in the drinking water serving the workplace.
- Monthly contaminant levels in the drinking water were estimated by modeling the movement of the contaminants from the source of pollution through the ground water and into the water distribution system.
Limitations of the study include the small number of specific causes of death, short exposure durations, uncertainty about drinking water use and workplace locations of civilians at the base, possible misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis, and lack of information on other exposures or risk factors. The study results do not answer the question whether an individual has been affected by these exposures.
ATSDR recently published a similar study among Marines and Navy personnel at Camp Lejeune. Several cancers with elevated risk among military personnel in that study were also elevated among the civilian employees; among them were, cancers of the kidney, prostate, lung and rectum, leukemia, and multiple myeloma: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/mortalitystudy.html.
The full study results are available in the Journal of Environmental Health: http://www.ehjournal.net/content/13/1/68/abstract.
More information about ATSDR public health activities at Camp Lejeune is available here: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/activities.html.
ATSDR, a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, evaluates the potential for adverse human health effects of exposure to hazardous substances in the environment