Marine Corps hope to reach ex-Lejeune residents about tainted water

Navy has spent $10 million to spread word about water risk

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2009

The U.S. Marine Corps is trying new methods to reach Marines, civilians and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune, N.C., over a 30-year period when the drinking water was contaminated.

The service recently circulated fliers to bases around the world to be posted in public places such as commissaries. For several years, the Marine Corps has had an outreach program to contact as many people as possible who might have been affected by the tainted water.

"We’ve started using different venues to reach different populations in different areas," Corps spokeswoman Capt. Amy Malugani said.

The Marine Corps is trying to reach some 500,000 people who lived and worked on the base November 1957 through February 1987, years in which experts believed well water was contaminated. To date, nearly 130,000 are in the Notification Registry.

The Department of the Navy has spent $17.3 million on health studies and nearly $10 million on outreach campaigns.

There are roughly 1,400 pending legal claims seeking a total of $33 billion by people who lived on the Marine base, both military personnel and civilians.

In May 1982, scientists found the presence of degreaser tricholoroethylene, or TCE, and the dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, in the drinking water at Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point housing areas. But wells supplying water to the housing complexes were not shut down until 1985.

The source of the contamination was traced to a commercial dry cleaner near the main gate and a vehicle maintenance and body shop on the base.

PCE, widely used for dry cleaning, is a volatile organic compound that the Department of Health and Human Services has determined can reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a unit of the department. Some scientific literature has associated the compound with birth defects and childhood cancers.

The contaminated drinking water exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level of 5 micrograms per liter. The concentration of PCE in the Tarawa Terrace was estimated to be about 200 micrograms per liter, an ATSDR report stated.

A community assistance panel, led by ATSDR, will host a meeting in Atlanta on April 28 where environmental and health experts will discuss future health studies and affected Marines, civilians, and their families can voice concerns.

The Department of the Navy is funding two independent research initiatives dedicated to the Camp Lejeune water issue. The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing scientific evidence on associations between adverse health effects and historical data. Results are expected in May. ATSDR is studying whether there is an association between exposure to the water and adverse health effects. Results are expected in 2010, Malugani said.

In 2004, ATSDR released results of a health survey of 12,598 children born to women who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1968 to 1985. The survey revealed 103 of the children suffered from childhood cancers or birth defects.

The study focused only on babies born at Lejeune during those years and those up to 1 year old. Not included were the thousands of older children and adults who were exposed to the contaminated water.

The Marine Corps has circulated these fliers to bases worldwide. They encourage former residents of Camp Lejeune, N.C., to register with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, by calling (877) 261- 9782 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Or visit the Web site at: www.marines.mil/clsurvey.

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