The United States Marine Corps base in Camp Lejeune, North Caroline was established in 1942. From 1953 through 1987, people living or working at the Marine Corps Base were exposed to contaminated drinking water. It has been reported that at least 900,000 military personnel and their family members were stationed at Camp Lejeune during this time period.
In the early 1980s, military chemists began testing the Camp Lejeune water and discovered high levels of specific organic compounds in the drinking water provided by two of the eight water treatment plants on the base. The two water treatments plants containing the contaminated water were Hadnot Point and Terawa Terrace. Throughout this time period, various people unknowingly drank and bathed in these toxic chemicals.
The water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with the industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). Among other Volatile Organic Compounds included Benzene, Vinyl Chloride, and Trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE). PCE was the primary contaminant found in the drinking water and mainly came from the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency has classified PCE as a likely human carcinogen. A nearby dry-cleaning business was a primary source of the water contamination. For years, the dry-cleaning business dumped wastewater laden with chemicals used in dry cleaning into the drains. As a result of the spills and improper disposal practices, the groundwater became contaminated. Other contributing factors that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found were on-base operations.
There were also sources of on-base contamination from the Hadnot Point water system. Many sources, including on-base spills at industrial sites, leaks from underground storage tanks, and drums at dumps and storage lots contributed to the TCE contamination. The Department of Health and Human services considers TCE to be a known human carcinogen. Records show that oil and industrial wastewater were dumped in storm drains and potentially radioactive materials were buried.
The Tarawa Terrace and the Hadnot Point water-supply systems operated similarly as they were both wells that collected groundwater and pumped it into a water-treatment plant. A few wells on both systems were contaminated and so when those wells were operating, they delivered the contaminated water to the treatment plant where it was then mixed with water from the other wells and processed before distributing it on the base.
The concentration of contamination varied throughout the years as wells were added and some wells were offline temporarily or were closed. The residential areas served by the two contaminated water supply systems were primarily for enlisted family housing and barracks for unmarried service personnel. This affected young families and people of reproductive age.
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