Death Watch

Evidence continues to mount that the water contamination at Camp Lejeune caused serious health problems. A number of new studies have been released since A Trust Betrayed went to press and all of them help confirm the worst fears of former residents of the base.

birth defects and childhood cancer study was released in December 2013 by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry—part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was actually the culmination of a 1999-2002 survey of 12,598 parents of children conceived or born at Camp Lejeune between 1968 and 1985. The initial survey uncovered 106 cases of birth defects or cancers among those children, including 35 with neural tube defects (spina bifada or anencephaly), 42 with oral clefts and 29 with childhood cancer.

The CDC conducted follow-up surveys after it completed an extensive water-modeling study to help determine exposure levels of people living in various parts of the base at different times. In the subsequent surveys the CDC was able to confirm about half of the cases that were initially reported: 15 cases of spina bifida or anencephaly, 24 oral clefts and 13 cancers.

Even with the lower number of confirmed cases, it means nearly one of every 250 children born at the base during the period of contamination suffered a very serious health problem.

Two months after that study was released, the CDC issued a mortality study comparing causes of death at Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton – a similar-sized Marine base but one without contaminated drinking water – in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Generally, the study found that past residents of Lejeune had a 10 percent higher death rate from cancer than those at Pendleton, and the death rates for certain types of cancer were much higher at Lejeune. For example, at Lejeune there were 68 percent more deaths from multiple myeloma, 47 percent more deaths from Hodgkins lymphoma, and 42 percent more deaths from liver cancer.

Another ATSDR study released last fall suggested that “adverse birth outcomes might be associated with women’s exposure during pregnancy” to volatile organic compounds in the base drinking water.

Still to come from the CDC are studies of male breast cancer among former residents of Lejeune; a new Public Health Assessment to update the PHA released in 1997 but that was later withdrawn when it was found that benzene exposure was not assessed; and a health survey of more than 300,000 Marines and civilians who lived or worked at Lejeune before 1985, along with a comparative survey of Camp Pendleton Marines and civilians in the same period.

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