At Camp Lejeune, the North Carolina Marine Corps base, cleanup continues of the decades-long drinking-water contamination problem that began in the 1950s.
More than 600 polluted sites are scattered around the 170-square-mile Marine base, located at the mouth of the New River. About five-dozen sites remain to be cleaned up, according to The Associated Press (AP). The contamination comes from a variety of pollutants – leaking gasoline from the base’s fuel storage farm, and chemicals including carcinogenic pesticides, benzene, and dry-cleaning solvents, some of which were intentionally dumped at Lejeune.
ABC Cleaners, which once operated near the base, was the primary source of trichloroethylene (TCE) and percholoroethylene (PCE), two of the most serious pollutants found in the water supply for a military housing development and the Naval hospital, according to the AP. The AP offers this comparison: the TCE level measured in Lejeune’s water in 1982 –1,400 parts per billion – was five times the level then found in the Woburn, Massachusetts, site of a childhood leukemia cluster that was the subject of the book and movie “A Civil Action.”
The base’s Hadnot Point fuel farm was a significant source of pollution. Poorly maintained underground storage tanks leaked about 1,500 gallons of fuel a month until as late as 1988, according to AP reporting.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added Camp Lejeune to its National Priorities List in 1989, the AP reports, and ever since, contractors have been digging up and removing underground storage tanks, hauling away tons of contaminated soil, and filtering tainted water.
Water from the base’s treatment plants is thoroughly tested monthly. Bob Lowder, the environmental engineer in charge of the base’s environmental quality, describes the base’s drinking water as “the safest and most tested drinking water that they can find,” and said the base’s testing regimen is “the most aggressive” in the nation, if not the world. But Lowder said he sees the end of the cleanup process. “The Navy anticipates we’ll have a remedy in place by the year 2014,” he said.