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Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing Potential Health Effects
OVERARCHING CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The available scientific information does not provide a sufficient basis for determining whether the population at Camp Lejeune has, in fact, suffered adverse health effects as a result of exposure to contaminants in the water supplies. On the one hand, several lines of scientific reasoning suggest such effects are unlikely to have occurred. The evidence includes a substantial body of research on the toxicology of TCE and PCE that indicates that the exposures required to cause adverse effects in laboratory animals were much larger than the highest measurements available on the Camp Lejeune water supplies; evidence that humans have lower sensitivity to TCE and PCE than rodents; epidemiologic data largely from occupational settings with higher, longer-term exposures to TCE and PCE that has not generated compelling evidence of adverse health effects; and the relatively short-term, intermittent nature of the exposures incurred at Camp Lejeune. On the other hand, the possibility that health effects may have been produced by the contaminant exposures at Camp Lejeune cannot be ruled out. Some effects of TCE or PCE exposure might have occurred below the level of detection in toxicologic studies, which focused on single contaminant exposures at high doses, used genetically homogeneous animal strains, and necessarily involved extrapolation across species. In addition, the population exposed at Camp Lejeune is more diverse and possibly more susceptible than those that have been exposed to TCE and PCE in occupational settings, and the actual concentrations of PCE and TCE and the presence of additional water contaminants are poorly documented and could thus be higher or more complex than the limited historical measurements suggest. There were divergent views among the committee members about the probability that each would assign to whether adverse health effects have in fact occurred, but there was consensus among them that scientific research is unable to provide more definitive answers to that question.
Additional research on potential health effects of water contamination at Camp Lejeune are unlikely to provide definitive information on whether exposure to it resulted in adverse health effects. Limitations in population size, data availability, and data quality cannot be overcome. Those limitations are due in part to the lack of documentation of exposure and the difficulty in assessing the health events that residents experienced after they were exposed. Even if ATSDR’s planned work goes forward successfully, the outcome of the efforts is unlikely to determine conclusively whether Camp Lejeune residents were adversely affected by exposure to water contaminants.
Because of the historical and complex nature of the contamination that occurred at Camp Lejeune and the availability of few empirical data on concentrations in water supplies, only crude estimates of exposure can be obtained. Even with the use of reasonable and, in some cases, advanced approaches, limitations in data availability and quality cannot be overcome. Thus, only a general conclusion can be drawn that the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water-supply systems were contaminated and that residents and workers were exposed to the contaminants in a highly variable manner. Additional work should make it possible to assign exposure categories of exposed and unexposed based on time and residence with reasonable certainty.
Additional research on the affected population should be only one of several potential responses by the Marine Corps to the water-contamination at Camp Lejeune. Given the likelihood that such studies would extend for many years and their expected inability to deliver definitive information on whether the water-supply contamination at Camp Lejeune caused adverse health effects, efforts to address and resolve the concerns associated with the documented contamination should not be deferred until such research is completed. Policy changes or administrative actions that would help to resolve the controversy should proceed in parallel with the studies (if they are continued) rather than in sequence.