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More cancers linked to water at Camp Lejeune, large CDC study finds

The new larger CDC study — called "remarkable" for its size — examined families stationed decades ago at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
More cancers linked to water at Camp Lejeune, large CDC study finds
Posted at 3:49 PM, Feb 01, 2024

Federal health officials found that military service members who began service between 1975 and 1985 and who were stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina had a significantly higher risk of developing a range of cancers linked to contaminated drinking water on the base. 

The research done on water at one of the nation's largest military bases on the East Coast is being called one of the CDC's most extensive examinations assessing the risk of cancer on a group who lived in a polluted environment. 

The CDC said the drinking water contamination began in the 1950s, but data on personnel that would help determine their base location was not available before the study year range of 1975 to 1985. The study examined families living at the base, as well as workers employed at Camp Lejeune, comparing them to Camp Pendleton, where researchers were able to gather data on workers and families between 1972 to 1985.

Camp Pendleton was examined as a way to compare a similar population, while civilian workers at Camp Lejeune were compared to the civilian population off base. Workers at California's Camp Pendleton had similar occupations but were not known to have been exposed to contaminated drinking water. 

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David Savitz is a consultant for the plaintiffs in cases related to the contamination at Camp Lejeune, and said while the study is impressive, it likely won't qualify as the final proof needed to show that the dangerous water definitively caused cancer cases, The Associated Press reported. 

The study focused mostly on male breast cancer, because researchers said there is very limited information on what causes breast cancer in men. However, with the exposure occurring decades earlier and not well-documented at the time, Savitz said the cases would not be "resolved definitively."

The CDC said eight water distribution systems have supplied water to family housing and other facilities at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Those "finished water" supplies sent contaminated water to the majority of family housing units at the base, the agency said.

The water was found to have contained volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

The base was built inside a sandy pine forest on North Carolina's coast in the early 1940s. Between the early 1950s to 1985, studies found drinking water there was contaminated with industrial solvents. The VOC contamination was blamed on a fuel depot that wasn't properly maintained, and on uncontrolled dumping of waste on base from an off-base dry cleaning business. 

The wells were eventually shut down, but not before the tainted water was sent to the base to be cooked with, bathed in and used for drinking water. 

The CDC examined children born between 1968 and 1985 — between the time when computerized birth certificates became available in North Carolina, and when the water wells were shut down. The CDC looked at how in utero drinking water exposure affected child birth, and children born to families who lived at Camp Lejeune during the time.

The study also examined the effects on civilian employees who worked at the base, including cancers of the bladder, cervix, colon, brain, esophagus, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas and a list of other cancers. 

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, based in Atlanta, is a sister agency for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ATSDR has conducted around six studies that focus on health issues with people at Camp Lejeune, which were smaller than this latest study. 

ATSDR investigated cancer in around 211,000 stationed at, or who worked at Camp Lejeune between 1975 and 1985, comparing them to around 224,000 people at Camp Pendleton.

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