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Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Press Release

For Immediate Release: June 12, 2007
Contact: 404-498-0070



Marine-Base Housing Contained Drinking Water Contaminated with Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) for Nearly 30 Years Says Federal Health Agency

ATLANTA - Water in the drinking water system for the Tarawa Terrace family housing area at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, affecting possibly 75,000 residents, was contaminated with tetrachloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning solvent, during the period November 1957 through February 1987, an analysis by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concludes.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has determined that PCE may be a carcinogen. But the effects of consumers´ exposure to drinking water contaminated with PCE are not known. Some health studies have found adverse effects in occupational settings. However, exposure to PCE alone typically does not mean a person will experience adverse health effects. Many factors determine whether people experience adverse health effects due to chemical exposure, such as dose, the duration of exposure, exposures to other chemicals in a lifetime, and overall state of health.

ATSDR estimates as many as 75,000 residents lived in the family housing units. On average, families lived in base housing about two years.

The maximum concentration of PCE in Tarawa Terrace drinking water was estimated to be about 200 micrograms per liter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency´s (EPA) maximum contaminant level of five micrograms per liter during the period.

The contamination occurred because the solvent leaked into the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system from an off-base dry-cleaner. In 1987, the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was disconnected from the base´s drinking water supply system because of contamination.

The analysis of the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system is part of ATSDR´s epidemiological study at Camp Lejeune. The study will focus on babies born during the period 1968-1985 up to the time that they were one year old.

PCE is in a class of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Some scientific literature has associated VOCs with birth defects and childhood cancers, such as spina bifida, anencephaly, cleft lip, cleft palate, leukemia and non-Hodgkin´s lymphoma.

Former Camp Lejeune Marines and their families who resided in family housing at the base are encouraged to get routine physicals and monitor their health for any changes.

Former Camp Lejeune Marines and their families can find the levels of PCE and PCE degradation by-products in the drinking water serving their homes in Tarawa Terrace by visiting the ATSDR Web site at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune and entering the dates they lived in Tarawa Terrace housing from 1951 to 1987.

For more information about ATSDR´s Tarawa Terrace drinking-water system analyses and current epidemiologic study, call 1-800-CDC-INFO and ATSDR´s website.

Established by Congress in 1980 under the Superfund law, ATSDR conducts public health assessments at each of the sites on the EPA National Priorities List, as well as other sites when petitioned.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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