Late Breaking News
New Study Seeks to Quantify Association Between Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune, Health Effects
WASHINGTON — When Mike Partain got the news from his doctor in 2007 that he had male breast cancer, he was shocked. There was no history of breast cancer in his family and certainly not among men.
“I am 6 foot 2, and you could have knocked me over with your pinky,” he said an interview, describing his astonishment at the news.
Partain is one of a number of servicemembers and their children who believe that their health condition stems from exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Partain was born at Camp Lejeune, where his father, a Marine, was stationed from 1967-1968. Partain, who has been active in drawing attention to the issue and has testified before Congress, said that, since his diagnosis, he has found 70 other men who had been exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and said they, too, have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Where else have you ever seen 71 men whose only commonality is the fact that they either all lived or served at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period, and they all have breast cancer?” he said.
Contaminated wells were shut down at the North Carolina military base by the mid 1980’s, but questions have arisen over the health of Marines and their dependents who were exposed to toxic chemicals before the base shut down the wells.
Water there from the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point treatment plants were found to be contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The main VOC found at Tarawa Terrace was perchloroethylene (PCE). The VOCs found at Hadnot Point were trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, benzene and trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE). Sources of the contamination were waste disposal practices at an off-base dry cleaning firm, leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills and waste disposal sites.
A new federal health survey, begun in June, seeks to shed light on the potential health impact from that exposure. The survey is requesting information about the health of those who may have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water before 1986. Health-care providers are being asked to encourage patients who receive a health survey from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) for either Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton, which is being used as a control group, to fill out their survey and return it or complete it online.
“From the perspective of the Marines themselves that were exposed at Camp Lejeune, this study will help them better understand what potential diseases might arise from those exposures. In the long term, it may be that the VA will cover those diseases, if the study provides sufficient information of strong positive relationship,” ATSDR Director Christopher Portier, PhD, told US Medicine.
ATSDR reports that benzene and vinyl chloride are known human carcinogens, according to the U.S. National Toxicology Program. PCE and TCE are considered as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the NTP, while the carcinogenicity of DCE cannot be classified because of a lack of studies. The health survey is part of an effort to understand what the exposure means for veterans and their families who drank and bathed in the contaminated water before the wells were shut down.
“Some of the compounds in the water have been very widely studied, and we do understand what exposures to those compounds may mean,” said Portier. “At Camp Lejeune, we are not sure of the magnitude of the exposures, and, because this is a particular mixture of a variety of things, we can’t be certain that the mixture is not of a different toxicity than the individual compounds. So, while there is a lot known about the compounds, in the case of Camp Lejeune, there is probably not enough known to make decisions on the basis of the available evidence. That is what this health survey and all of the studies we are doing is attempting to clarify.”
The survey includes a sample of former active-duty and civilian workers from Camp Pendleton as a comparison group to help separate possible health effects from exposure to the water from health effects from other causes, he explained
ATSDR expects to mail more than 300,000 surveys. A group of health surveys will be mailed out about every three weeks from June 2011 through December 2011.
“There are 300,000 potential people being surveyed [so] any response rate above 25% will give us a valid study,” he said. “That said, we would still like to get the response rate as high as possible because, if the response rate is too low, you begin to worry about potential bias, that the only people who are responding are those who are sick. We want to make sure we get a broad spectrum of response, not just sick populations.”
ATSDR is conducting other studies to better understand potential effects from the water contamination, including a mortality study and one on birth defects. The results of those two studies should be available next year, Pointier said. ATSDR is also completing its water modeling of the base that will help identify where and when drinking water became VOC contaminated at Camp Lejeune. Page 2