Camp Lejeune water contamination timeline

By MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS Published: April 18, 2010

September 1963 — The Department of the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery issues drinking water standards. The regulations ban any chemicals from drinking water in concentrations that would be hazardous to human health.

November 1979 — The Environmental Protection Agency publishes suggested limits for trichloroethylene, or TCE, and warns of long-term cancerous effects. Later that month, the EPA issues rules on testing for trihalomethanes, a byproduct of chlorine. Shortly thereafter, Camp Lejeune begins routine water tests for trihalomethanes.

April 1980 — The EPA issues suggested limits on tetrachloroethylene, also known as perclene, or PCE.

Oct. 31, 1980 — Army laboratory chief William Neal Jr. warns that well water he tested at Camp Lejeune's Hadnot Point was contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbons, a group of chemicals that includes TCE and PCE. More warnings follow in January 1981, February 1981 and March 1981.

April 19, 1982 — Camp Lejeune contracts with Grainger Laboratories of Raleigh, N.C., to conduct routine tests for trihalomethanes.

May 6, 1982 — Grainger co-owner Mike Hargett calls Elizabeth Betz, Camp Lejeune's base chemist, to tell her that the water is contaminated with TCE and PCE. He offers to do further tests on both chemicals for $75 each.

May 14, 1982 — Betz decides not to tell a top commander about the water contamination, according to two memos she wrote on the briefing.

May 28, 1982 — A water sample is drawn from a sink at the naval hospital near Hadnot Point. It later shows a TCE level of 1,400 parts per billion. At the time, the EPA recommends a one-day exposure to TCE of no more than 2,000 parts per billion and a 10-day exposure of no more than 200 parts per billion.

July 28, 1982 — Samples of raw water and treated water are taken from Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point to send to Grainger Labs to be analyzed for TCE and PCE.

July 29, 1982 — Betz calls state regulators to ask about rules on water contamination. She doesn't ask about TCE and PCE, according to her memo.

Aug. 10, 1982 — Bruce Babson of Grainger Labs writes to Camp Lejeune's commanding general about the TCE and PCE contamination: "These appear to be at high levels and hence more important from a health standpoint than the total trihalomethane content."

Aug. 18, 1982 — Betz writes a memo that says the base will reduce the testing frequency, since there are no problems with trihalomethanes. That's the chlorine byproduct for which Grainger Laboratories initially was hired to test and which is less dangerous than TCE or PCE.

Aug. 19, 1982 — Betz concludes in a memo that TCE and PCE levels are within the EPA's advisory range for hazardous spills despite the 1,400 parts per billion reading for TCE at Hadnot Point. She notes that the EPA warns of long-term liver and neurological damage in humans from exposure to TCE and PCE.

Aug. 25, 1982 — The base's commanding general asks to "de-emphasize" trihalomethane issues in the base's final report for the EPA on contamination.

Dec. 9, 1982 — Grainger Laboratories warns that TCE and PCE are interfering with readings for trihalomethane testing in the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water systems.

Dec. 21, 1982 — Babson warns Betz over the phone that TCE and PCE levels at Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point were up again, especially at Hadnot Point.

March 16, 1983 — In a report to the base's commanding general, Grainger Laboratories warns that TCE and PCE are interfering with readings during tests for trihalomethanes.

June 1, 1983 — Camp Lejeune's assistant facilities chief sends Charles Rundgren, the head of the North Carolina Water Supply Branch, its lab results as required by the state Drinking Water Act. The Lejeune official sends only a compilation, however, not the original Grainger Laboratories reports, which have the mentions of the TCE and PCE interference.

June 21, 1983 — The state writes back to Lejeune officials, asking for the original Grainger Laboratories forms.

Aug. 11 1983 — Lejeune's assistant facilities chief announces that an Initial Assessment Study — a review of potentially hazardous sites on base — is complete. He says "none of the sites pose an immediate threat to human health," but that 22 sites warrant more study.

Sept. 16, 1983 — Grainger Laboratories indicates TCE interference in its lab report to Camp Lejeune.

Dec. 12, 1983 — Lejeune's assistant facilities chief responds to the June 21 letter from the state. He writes that per a phone call with a state official, he won't send the original Grainger Lab reports. The Lejeune official also notes that the base plans to reduce the testing frequency at Hadnot Point.

Jan. 20, 1984 — Rundgren says Lejeune can reduce Hadnot Point's tests for trihalomethanes to quarterly.

May 1984 — In preparation for the EPA federal Superfund law, Camp Lejeune issues its work plan for 22 sites on base thought to be contaminated by various chemicals. The plan warns of the possible presence of TCE near drilling sites. It warns workers not to inhale the chemicals and says they must wear protective suits.

July 1984 — As part of the investigation of contamination under the Superfund law, an outside contractor from Florida takes samples from Hadnot Point Well No. 602 and finds benzene at 380 parts per billion. The contractor also lists TCE and PCE contamination.

November 1984 — According to later reviews and Marine spokesman Capt. Brian Block, Camp Lejeune doesn't receive the July test results until now. He says the contaminated wells were shut down within a week.

May 1985 — News reports appear about 10 wells shut down at Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point. A Marine spokesman says no state or federal regulations were violated with the amount of contamination in the water.

— Compiled by Barbara Barrett

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