A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a link between tainted drinking water at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina and increased risk of serious birth defects and childhood cancers.
The long-awaited study was released last Thursday by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, the Associated Press (AP) reports. The CDC surveyed the parents of 12,598 children born at Camp Lejeune between 1968 and 1985, the year most contaminated drinking water wells were closed. The study was designed to see if there was a link between exposure to certain chemicals and certain health problems that developed later. The CDC confirmed 15 cases of spina bifida and anencephaly, 24 cases of oral clefts, and 13 cases of cancer.
The CDC concluded that babies born to mothers who drank the tap water while pregnant were four times more likely to have such serious birth defects as spina bifida than children of women in similar circumstances who did not consume the water. These babies also had a slightly elevated risk of such childhood cancers as leukemia, according to the results, the AP reports.
The researchers were not able to measure how much tainted water the surveyed parents had consumed and, therefore, could not gauge how much of a particular chemical they may have been exposed to, according to the AP.
Epidemiologist Richard W. Clapp, who serves on a federal board that has reviewed the Lejeune contamination, and noted that the findings are important because they are the first conclusive link between tainted water on the base and negative health effects in the children of Marines based there. For decades, the military has downplayed the health risks to Marines and their families.
The base’s water contamination was traced to two primary sources: a leaky fuel depot on the base and a nearby dry cleaner. Though Marine officials have emphasized the contamination from outside the base, the CDC study found the greatest negative health impacts were associated with benzene, which came from the on-base fuel depot built during World War II.
President Barack Obama last year signed a law providing screening and medical care for Marines and their families exposed between 1957 and 1987. The law covers 15 diseases and conditions, including female infertility; miscarriage; leukemia and multiple myeloma; and bladder, breast, esophageal, kidney, and lung cancers, according to the AP.