ATSDR at Work: Camp Lejeune, NC, Part 2Posted on by
Second in a Series of Three Posts
ATSDR Gathers Information about Health
When they learned that drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune had been contaminated from the 1940s to the 1980s, many people who lived or worked there in those years became concerned about their health. ATSDR has completed four studies to learn more about the health effects of exposure to the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) found in drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Other health studies are underway. The findings of these studies are important but should be interpreted with caution because of study limitations.
Information about water contamination was not available before 1980. So ATSDR scientists used water modeling methods to estimate monthly amounts of contaminants in drinking water serving areas of the base. ATSDR assessed exposures through 1985 when the most contaminated wells were shut down.
(Read our Water Modeling blog post to learn more.)
ATSDR did this study to find out whether exposures to contaminated residential drinking water at Camp Lejeune increased the risk of death from cancers and other diseases in Marines and Navy personnel.
The study looked at causes of death in 154,932 members of the Marine Corps and Navy who began service during 1975–1985 and were stationed at Camp Lejeune anytime during this period. ATSDR used a similar group of 154,969 Marines and Navy personnel from Camp Pendleton who did not serve at Camp Lejeune during this period for comparison. Camp Pendleton’s drinking water was not contaminated. Personnel records before 1975 with base information were not available.
Compared to Camp Pendleton, the study found a higher risk of death among Camp Lejeune personnel for all cancers combined, and specifically cancers of the
- soft tissue,
- cervix, and
The study also found a higher risk of death among Camp Lejeune personnel from leukemias, Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and multiple sclerosis.
ATSDR did this study to find out whether drinking water exposures at Camp Lejeune increased the risk of death from cancers and other diseases in civilian workers.
The study looked at causes of death in 4,647 full-time workers employed at Camp Lejeune during 1973–1985. For comparison, scientists used a group of 4,690 full-time workers employed at Camp Pendleton (but not at Camp Lejeune) during that time. Information on work history at either base before 1973 was not available.
Compared to Camp Pendleton, the study found higher risks in the Camp Lejeune civilian workers for all cancers combined and cancers of the
- oral cavity,
- female breast,
- prostate, and
The study also found that Camp Lejeune civilian workers were at higher risk for leukemias, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, and kidney diseases.
The study looked at whether a mother’s exposure to contaminants in drinking water during pregnancy increased her child’s risk of neural tube defects, oral clefts, childhood leukemia, and childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma. ATSDR chose to study these diseases because studies conducted elsewhere suggested that exposures to the VOCs found in Camp Lejeune water might cause these conditions. Although ATSDR wanted to study other birth defects and childhood cancers, not enough cases were identified to do so.
The study evaluated births during 1968–1985 to mothers who lived on base any time during their pregnancy. The study started with 1968 because that is when computerized birth certificates in North Carolina became available. North Carolina had no cancer or birth defect registry during 1968–1985. So ATSDR surveyed parents of children who were carried or conceived on base during this period. The survey asked parents of these children whether they had a birth defect or developed a childhood cancer.
The study found the following:
- First trimester exposure to TCE and benzene was associated with neural tube defects.
- First trimester exposure to PCE and vinyl chloride showed weaker associations for childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
ATSDR did this study to find out if a mother’s exposure to contaminants in drinking water were associated with early (preterm) birth and poor growth. Preterm birth and poor growth can increase the risk for health problems later in life.
Computerized birth certificates were available beginning in 1968, so scientists looked at births during 1968–1985 to women who lived on base for at least one week before giving birth. The study included 11,896 live single births at 28–47 weeks of pregnancy and weighing 1.1 pounds or more.
The study showed the following:
- Exposure to PCE was associated with preterm birth (before 37 weeks).
- Exposure to TCE was associated with babies who were small for their gestational age, term low birth weight, and reduced average birth weight.
- Exposure to benzene was associated with term low birth weight.
For more information
You can find out more about these studies on the ATSDR Camp Lejeune website.
The third blog post in this series will feature the contributions of the Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel.