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Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing Potential Health Effects
working with community groups seeking answers to questions about the water contamination. Although these encounters were not exhaustive in identifying all issues of concern or all perspectives, they gave the committee a chance to hear firsthand from people who have concerns. The committee sincerely appreciates the time and effort that went into the presentations, testimonies, and materials that were provided.
On the basis of the public input, the committee understands that some people believe that the Marine Corps has not responded appropriately to the contamination since it was first discovered. Some believe that the military leadership has not been fully forthcoming in providing data and information about the contamination and about the people who lived in affected areas. Some have concerns about whether information was disclosed or released in timely and appropriate ways. Questions have also been raised about the pace at which investigations have been conducted and whether the investigations are the most appropriate ones. Many expressed an interest in an unbiased and credible review.
Many of the people who addressed the committee have suffered from serious diseases or have family members or friends who have suffered. The committee was moved by the testimonies it heard and understands that some may have been looking for the committee to make a judgment on their particular case. However, science does not allow the committee to determine the cause of a specific case of disease. This may be hard to understand. Why would scientific experts not be able to determine whether a child’s birth defect or a parent’s cancer diagnosis was due to a chemical exposure? Unfortunately, for diseases that can have multiple causes and that develop over a long period of time, it is generally impossible to establish definitively the cause in individual cases. It was beyond the scope of the committee’s charge to try to determine whether any particular case of a disease or disorder is associated with exposure to the water supply at Camp Lejeune.
Some parties contend that the Marine Corps has not done what it should to compensate them or to provide medical care for the harm they believe was caused by their exposure to the contaminated water supplies. In 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that former residents and employees of Camp Lejeune had filed more than 750 claims against the federal government related to the contamination. GAO also reports that the federal government is awaiting the results of a study on childhood cancers and birth defects before adjudicating claims. It was beyond the scope of the committee’s charge to judge whether the military authorities acted appropriately from a legal or ethical perspective or fulfilled their responsibilities to those under their charge. It was also beyond the scope of the committee’s charge to determine whether or how the military authorities should address claims made.
THE COMMITTEE’S REVIEW AND FINDINGS
The committee divided its review into two major categories: (1) evaluating the exposures of former residents and workers to the contamination of the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water-supply systems, and (2) evaluating the potential health effects associated with the water contaminants. The assessments were then considered together to ascertain whether conclusions could be drawn about whether any adverse health outcomes could be attributed to the water contaminants.
Exposures to Former Residents and Workers
The term “exposure” refers to contact with contaminants in air, water, or food that may occur through inhalation, ingestion, or dermal absorption (through the skin). In this case, it refers to drinking water that contains contaminants or using it for other purposes. Bathing and showering are relevant, as well as drinking, because TCE and PCE (and other solvents) can evaporate into the air (volatilize) when present in hot water used for bathing, showering, or washing dishes or clothing and can then be inhaled. All of these routes of exposure affect how the body metabolizes TCE and PCE, how the metabolites are distributed and cleared by the body, and how organ systems respond.