June 14, 2009 in Nation/World

Lejeune water study finds no definite link to disease

Estes Thompson Associated Press
 

RALEIGH, N.C. – Contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune can’t definitively be linked to health problems among people who lived at the Marine base over three decades, according to a government report released Saturday.

Former residents of the base in eastern North Carolina don’t have diseases different from the general population, and the industrial solvents that tainted well water there between the 1950s and 1985 were at concentrations that don’t cause obvious harm to human health, according to the report ordered by Congress and released by the National Research Council.

But the 341-page report, which reviews past studies of the base’s water and health issues there, said there are severe challenges in trying to connect the contaminants to any birth defects, cancer and many other ailments suffered by people who lived and worked on base.

It “cannot be determined reliably whether diseases and disorders experienced by former residents and workers at Camp Lejuene are associated with their exposure to contaminants in the water supply,” the report states.

“Even with scientific advances, the complex nature of the Camp Lejeune contamination and the limited data on the concentrations in water supplies allow for only crude estimates of exposure,” David Savitz, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.

The study says the Marines and Navy shouldn’t wait for more scientific studies before deciding how to deal with health problems reported by former base residents. And it calls into question the value of further studies.

“It would be extremely difficult to conduct direct epidemiologic studies of sufficient quality and scope to make a substantial contribution to resolving the health concerns of former Camp Lejeune residents,” it states.

A Marine Corps spokesman, 1st Lt. Brian Block, said the service would study the report before making a statement.

One longtime critic of the military’s handling of the issue said the study panel didn’t have all the information it needed about contaminants.

“This is a whitewash of the facts,” said Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine whose daughter was conceived on Camp Lejeune and died of childhood leukemia in 1985 at age 9.

Water was contaminated by dry cleaning solvents and other sources at the base’s major family housing areas, the report said. Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to the toxins tricholorethylene or perchloroethylene before the wells were closed 22 years ago.

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