Birth defects in children born at a United States Marine Corps base in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s have now been definitively traced to contamination in the water supply, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tainted wells at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were identified and closed in 1985, but now seems to have been affecting infants born up to 34 years earlier. The water was contaminated from August 1953 through December 1987, but officials say it has been safe to drink since the wells were closed.
The children of mothers who drank the camp’s tap water during their pregnancies had four times the incidence of spina bifida and other birth defects than children born to women who lived off-base in the same area during the same period. Children whose mothers lived on the base also showed a slightly elevated risk of leukemia and other childhood cancers.
The effects of the water on adults who were exposed have not been thoroughly studied, but more than 80 men who were on the base between 1968 and 1985 have been diagnosed with an especially rare form of breast cancer, already a rare disease in men. Contaminants found in the water include a degreaseer called trichloroethylene, a dry-cleaning chemical called perchloroethylene, and benzene, all known carcinogens, and several types of cancer have been linked to similar incidents of contamination.
A law passed in August of 2012 helped get medical treatment for people affected by the contaminated water. The law provides aid to 750,000 people who because of the toxins in the water are suffering from breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, renal toxicity, lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, hepatic steatosis, multiple myeloma, or scleroderma, as well as myleodysplasic syndromes and neurobehavioral effects. The bill also covers women who became infertile or who miscarried due to contaminant exposure.