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Senators push $1.8M for Lejeune contamination research

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 14, 2009

Four U.S. senators are urging the Navy to fund a $1.8 million health study of military families who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, N.C., between 1957 and 1987.

"We have an obligation to the men and women who serve our country and their families to investigate this matter to the full extent," reads a letter to the Navy signed by North Carolina Sens. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and Richard Burr, a Republican, and Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and George LeMieux, a Republican.

In May 1982, scientists found the presence of degreaser tricholoroethylene, or TCE, and the dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, in the drinking water sources that supplied water to Camp Lejeune’s Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point housing areas. The wells that supplied the water were not shut down until 1985.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has requested the Navy commit $1.8 million on a comprehensive mortality study on the issue, the senators wrote.

The Navy acknowledged it has received the senators’ letter, but officials declined comment on the issue until Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has a chance to respond directly to the lawmakers, a Navy spokeswoman said.

The Department of the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, already has spent about $14 million for health studies over the past several years, said Marine spokesman Capt. Brian Block, and millions more on outreach programs to alert and contact Lejeune residents.

The Corps is trying to reach anywhere from 400,000 to 1 million people who lived and worked on the base between 1957 and 1987, Block said. To date, 150,000 people have been recorded in the notification registry. Registration can be done online at www.usmc.mil/clwater or by contacting a research call center at (877) 261-9782.

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

PCE, widely used for dry cleaning, is a volatile organic compound determined to be a carcinogen, according to the toxic substances agency. Some studies have associated it with birth defects and childhood cancers.

But a National Research Council study released in June found no conclusive link between the toxins in the housing areas’ drinking water supply and illnesses. The toxic substances agency recommends additional studies in spite of the NRC’s findings.

In 1997, the agency characterized the drinking water pollutants as a "past public health hazard," a position it continues to maintain. In 2004, the agency 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 findings do not conclusively link the contaminated water to the defects and illnesses, however. The only conclusion researchers will draw now is that the number of cases warrants further study, Scott Mall, an agency spokesman, has said.

Agency officials have proposed mortality and morbidity studies that they say they cannot do without the requested funding.


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