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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine Corps will convene an independent panel of experts in an effort to better inform Marines and their families about the contaminated water supply at Camp Lejeune, an issue that continues to badger the Corps.

Several years ago, the Corps embarked on a massive public outreach program to contact families who lived on the North Carolina base between 1968 and 1985, and who had children during those years.

It wasn’t enough, said spokesman Maj. Nat Fahy. “We want to do more in that regard,” Fahy said, citing the purpose of the panel’s creation.

In May 1982, scientists found traces of the degreaser tricholoroethylene, or TCE, and the dry-cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, in the drinking water at the enlisted Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point housing units.

The wells were shut down three years later. Eventually, the source of the contamination was traced to a commercial drycleaners near the main gate and a vehicle maintenance and body shop on the base.

“We are deeply concerned about the health issues raised by members of our Marine Corps family and are working diligently to ensure that anyone affected during this period and beyond is well cared for,” Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee said in an statement released Friday.

The panel of three private sector professionals — who have yet to be selected — will be experts in environmental, engineering and military command issues, Fahy said.

Hagee expects a report from the panel by Sept. 1.

“The panel is being convened to gather facts for the purpose of informing our Marines and their families who could have been affected,” Hagee said. “Continued questions from interested families and other parties prompted us to examine the chronology of events with more scrutiny. In the course of this deeper examination, we realized additional facts needed to be acquired and reviewed. We must leave no stone unturned on this important issue.”

In July, ATSDR released preliminary results of a health survey of 12,598 children born to women who lived at Camp Lejeune over a 17-year period that revealed 103 of the children suffered childhood cancers or birth defects.

The findings do not conclusively link the contaminated drinking water to the defects and illnesses; but prompted further studies. Researchers have focused on the 103 cases, of which 33 children suffered from spina bifida or anencephaly, a congenital absence of most of the brain and spinal cord; 41 suffered from oral clefts, and 29 have been diagnosed with childhood cancers leukemia and lymphoma.

“The ultimate goal is to determine if there is a cause and effect between the childhood leukemia and cancers and the water supply,” Scott Mall, an agency spokesman, said Friday.

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, oral clefts is one of the most common birth defects in the United States, with a prevalence in the general population of about 1 per 1,000 births. At Lejeune, 12 clefts have been confirmed out of 12,598 births and another 29 have been reported.

And according to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., normal U.S. spina bifida rates are 0.2 per 1,000 births, and for anencephaly, 0.1 per 1,000 births, the two major neural tube defects. Data show 2.62 per 1,000 births at Camp Lejeune for this category of defect in the study’s time period.

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