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2/17/2004 - Jacksonville Daily News

February 17, 2004 Jacksonville, North Carolina A Freedom ENC Property Pentagon delaying notices February 16,2004 THOMAS DAIL DAILY NEWS STAFF Pentagon officials say they probably won't consider telling former Camp Lejeune residents of their possible exposure to toxins in water until a federal agency finishes a study of childhood cancer and birth defects in children who were exposed to the poisons before they were born. Last week, U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., called for the Secretary of the Navy to notify people who lived on base before 1985 about their possible exposure to tetrachloroehtylene, or PCE, and trichloroethylene, or TCE. The contamination was found in wells in 1980. The wells were capped in 1985. After a survey identified 103 cases of childhood cancer and birth defects among 12,598 children carried in the womb while their mothers lived at Camp Lejeune, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, began working on a full study to see whether drinking water contamination increased a fetus' risk of developing certain birth defects or childhood cancers after birth. Study expected to take years That study will likely take years and involves reconstructing the base water system as it existed before 1985 to determine which housing areas got which water. Pentagon officials said they wanted to see the results of the study before further notifying former residents. "Based on (the) ATSDR results, we will expeditiously consider the need for additional notification," officials said in a statement that was delivered by a spokesman for the Secretary of the Navy and that originated at Headquarters Marine Corps. Some who feel that the contaminated water made them or their families sick have asked the Marine Corps to notify previous residents. Many said they didn't find out about the contamination until 1999, when ATSDR began distributing questionnaires to families with children born at Camp Lejeune between 1968 and 1985. The military said it notified base residents several times, including in media reports in 1985, when the base shut down contaminated wells and put water-use restrictions in place to make up for the lost water. Who should know? An ATSDR spokesman, responding to Jeffords' call for an expansion of the study to include adults and children, said ATSDR designed the study to include only people exposed as fetuses, because unborn children were the most vulnerable population group. "They were the place where we were most likely to get results," said Scott Mull, an ATSDR spokesman. "That's why the study was conducted the way it's being conducted. "It's not meant to denigrate anybody's illnesses. It's not meant to say that this group is any more important that you are. "They are much more vulnerable than you or I as adults." If the study establishes a causal link between exposure to the contaminated water and certain birth defects or childhood cancers, it could be expanded to children and adults. "It was never meant that this would be the end of it," Mull said. "It is really just the first step in what could be (a larger study)." The agency hadn't decided how it would respond to the Jeffords' request. "It would be difficult to expand it at this point in time," Mull said. Who else? Meanwhile, a naval attaché at the Dutch embassy in Washington, D.C., said his government is trying to track down Dutch Marines who were stationed at Camp Lejeune before 1985 to make sure they aren't ill. The Netherlands has an exchange program with the United States in which three or four U.S. Marines are stationed for a year in the Netherlands, and a similar number of Dutch troops come here. "The least you can do is this, make up a list of people who had been there in those years and try to track them down," said Col. Herman Dukers, himself a Marine. "The regulations in those days, at least in my country, were not as firm as they are today. "We are aware of it and we are keeping track of it." Figuring outflow No one is exactly sure when the contamination of the drinking water supply started, but a dry cleaner that opened in the 1950s was the main source of PCE in Tarawa Terrace, while leaking underground storage tanks on base were the main source of TCE at Hadnot Point. Camp Lejeune authorities realized the base had a drinking water problem as early as 1980, but said they didn't understand the full extent at that time. That's when the Environmental Protection Agency had established drinking water standards for total trihalomethanes, another class of organic chemicals that includes chloroform. Sometimes those compounds formed during the chlorination process, and when the tests began coming back positive for high levels of trihalomethanes in 1980, base engineers began working to confirm the results and change the chlorination process, records show. In May 1982, Grainger Lab retested the water and found that the readings on total trihalomethanes were being caused by contamination by other pollutants, primarily TCE in Hadnot Point and PCE in Tarawa Terrace. While the EPA had not yet established enforceable drinking water standards for those chemicals, it had established the suggested standards for them. The levels found at Camp Lejeune blew them out of the water. The base was still using the contaminated wells three years later when state regulators told the Camp Lejeune it was violating groundwater standards. By that time, environmental assessment and remediations were under way at Camp Lejeune, and in 1989, the base and the dry cleaner were added to the EPA's National Priority List, better known as Superfund. Eventually, ATSDR became involved and found enough cause for concern to begin conducting studies. In one, the agency found that male children born on Camp Lejeune were small for their gestational age. In 1999, ATSDR began the survey that found the 103 cases of birth defects and cancer this summer. But there was a problem with the studies. They all assumed that the Holcomb Boulevard plant, which wasn't contaminated, had always supplied Midway Point, Paradise Point, Berkeley Manor and Watkins Village, while the Hadnot Point system provided water for Hospital Point and the base industrial areas. The Holcomb Boulevard Plant wasn't built until 1972. In a November 2000 e-mail released under the Freedom of Information Act, an environmental program manager at Headquarters Marine Corps asked Camp Lejeune to clarify which water distribution system served which areas before the Holcomb Boulevard plant was built in 1972. "ATSDR published a report in 1998 which assumes that the Holcomb Boulevard water distribution plant has always provided water to the Midway Park, Paradise Point, Berkeley Manor and Watkins Village housing areas. I don't think the Holcomb Boulevard plant was even built until 1972 which makes this assumption incorrect," the e-mail says. In a March 2001, the same program manager asked Camp Lejeune officials again, saying the Royal Netherlands Navy was also interested. Contact Thomas Dail at or at 353-1171, Ext. 229. Email This Page Your Name: Send To: © 2004 by Freedom ENC Communications. All rights reserved. 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