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Posted 6/12/07

Drinking water contaminated for nearly 30 years at Marine Corps Base

For nearly 30 years, drinking water in a family housing area of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was contaminated with tetrachloroethylene (PCE) or PERC, a dry-cleaning solvent.

That, according to June 12, 2007, press release from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Water in the drinking water system for the Tarawa Terrace family housing area at Camp Lejeune was contaminated from November 1957 through February 1987, the ATSDR concluded.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has determined that PCE may be a carcinogen. But the effects of consumers' exposure to drinking water contaminated with PCE are not known. Some health studies have found adverse effects in occupational settings.

ATSDR estimates as many as 75,000 residents lived in the family housing units. On average, families lived in base housing about two years.

The maximum concentration of PCE in Tarawa Terrace drinking water was estimated to be about 200 micrograms per liter. The US Environmental Protection Agency´s (EPA) maximum contaminant level was five micrograms per liter during the period.

The contamination occurred because the solvent leaked into the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system from an off-base dry-cleaner. In 1987, the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was disconnected from the base´s drinking water supply system because of contamination.

PCE is in a class of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs have been associated with birth defects and childhood cancers, such as spina bifida, anencephaly, cleft lip, cleft palate, leukemia and non-Hodgkin´s lymphoma.

Former Camp Lejeune Marines and their families can find the levels of PCE and PCE degradation by-products in the drinking water serving their homes in Tarawa Terrace by visiting the ATSDR Web site and entering the dates they lived in Tarawa Terrace housing from 1951 to 1987.

For more information about ATSDR´s Tarawa Terrace drinking-water system analyses and current epidemiologic study, call 800 CDC INFO.

Established by Congress in 1980 under the Superfund law, ATSDR conducts public health assessments at each of the sites on the EPA National Priorities List, as well as other sites when petitioned.

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