Report to president links cancer, Lejeune contamination
May 06, 2010 5:09 PM
A report linking water contamination at Camp Lejeune to cancer in former base residents went to the desk of President Barack Obama this week.
The President’s Cancer Panel released a 240-page analysis Thursday urging the president to tighten regulations on environmental carcinogens and chemicals known to increase cancer risk.
“In 2009 alone, approximately 1.5 million American men, women, and children were diagnosed with cancer, and 562,000 died from the disease,” an introductory letter addressed to Obama reads. “With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action.”
The report, the focus of the panel’s work for the 2008-2009 year, contains a section dedicated to exposure to contaminants and other hazards from military sources. Included are brief descriptions of the Vietnam-era carcinogen Agent Orange, chromium, radioactive contamination, and historical water contamination with the solvents TCE and PCE at Camp Lejeune.
“For 30 years beginning in the late 1950s, soldiers and others living at or near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, consumed drinking water from wells contaminated by TCE and another solvent, perchloroethylene (also called tetrachloroethylene), at concentrations more than 40 times the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit,” the report reads. “…In addition to the high incidence of cancers (including at least 53 cases of male breast cancer) among those who drank, bathed in, and ate food prepared with the contaminated water, many children born at the base suffered birth defects and illnesses. Women exposed in their first trimester of pregnancy had unusually high miscarriage rates. After years of denying any relationship between health problems and Camp Lejeune’s water supply, the U.S. government now has established a registry of people potentially contaminated, as well as a Web site and call center for those seeking information about their possible exposure or exposure-related health problems.”
The segment also included a testimonial from Gloria Fall, a former Lejeune resident and cancer survivor who lost a grandchild to water contamination.
The chemicals TCE and PCE, which entered base drinking water from an off-base dry cleaner’s and improper disposal practices aboard Lejeune, are also discussed in detail early on in the report.
PCE, the analysis notes, is “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program, and TCE is listed as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
These findings are somewhat stronger than those of a report on Camp Lejeune water released by the National Research Council in June 2009 which found “limited or suggestive evidence of an association” between the chemicals and roughly a dozen diseases including breast, bladder, lung, and kidney cancers, and “inadequate or insufficient evidence” of causal association with scores of others.
The PCP report quotes Suzanne Fenton of the Environmental Protection Association urging further studies to obtain more date for risk assessment and dose exposure confirmation.
Richlands resident Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine and full-time advocate for victims of contamination at Lejeune, said the report is a great step forward for those affected.
“Whenever you put Camp Lejeune on a pedestal right beside Agent Orange, that’s a pretty big deal,” he said. “This kind of shoots a hole in what the NRC said last year, doesn’t it?”
Ensminger said he believed the way to put a stop to repeated incidences of environmental contamination at military bases was to pass new laws offering greater protection to service members and their families.
“Once the military is finished with a person, they have the comfort of knowing that anybody within their service cannot sue them, because of the Feres Doctrine,” he said. “The day you’re discharged and become a veteran, your usefulness is gone. You become a liability at that time.”
The Department of the Navy recently approved funding for a number of studies on the Lejeune contamination to be undertaken by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, including a mortality study, water modeling at Hadnot Point, a re-analysis of the 1998 Pregnancy Outcome Study, and a case control study.