Service members were exposed to over 3000 times the safe exposure limits of toxic chemicals via contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Two water-supply systems on were contaminated with the industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), as well as vinyl chloride. The contamination appears to have begun in the middle 1950s and continued until the middle 1980s, when contaminated supply wells were shut down.
The sources of the contamination were an off-base dry-cleaning establishment and on-base industrial activities. Typically, we hear the name “trichloroethylene” (TCE) in connection with Camp Lejeune, but TCE was one of more than 70 chemicals identified in the drinking water, and TCE isn’t the most dangerous by a longshot.
Research on TCE DOES point towards it being a likely carcinogen, and animal studies have found increases in lung, liver, kidney, and testicular tumors as well as lymphoma, however other chemicals measured in the drinking water, such as benzene and vinyl chloride are extremely carcinogenic, even in small doses. Other carcinogens in Lejeune water and on base include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides, heavy metals, and even the “agent orange-like” dibenzofuran.
Trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene
Studies show that TCE and PCE can raise the risk of several cancers, including kidney and liver cancers and some support for Hodgkin’s disease and non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There is also a possible association of cervical cancer with TCE exposure. Some data suggest associations between TCE exposure and multiple myeloma and prostate, laryngeal, and colon cancers. There is support for an association between dry cleaning and laundry work (which typically utilize TCE and PCE) and kidney, pancreatic, cervical, esophageal, and lung cancers, and some support for bladder, prostate and colon cancers.
Benzene is listed as a carcinogen, and typically promotes both acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), as well as multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Studies of workers exposed to toluene show an increase in cancer of the lung, breast, esophagus, stomach, colon, and especially the Rectum. In addition, increases in lymphosarcoma, lympholeukaemia and Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkins lymphoma have been seen in workers exposed to toluene.
I’ve discussed vinyl chloride in burn pits and its relation to cancer in previous posts. Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause up to five times higher rates of liver cancer, angiosarcoma, and lung cancer.
While the above toxins were measured in the highest quantities in the water at camp Lejeune, many other toxins were measured that are highly carcinogenic. Some of these include heavy metals, pesticides, assorted polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and others. If there is no research connecting your particular cancer to exposure from the above toxins, there still may be research to support a connection.
More and more Lejeune veterans are beginning to develop cancers, some of which are not listed above, and some with cancers that are extremely rare. At least twenty men who were stationed at Lejeune have developed breast cancer, which is so rare in males that only about 2,000 men in the US develop it each year. Add to this the fact that when men DO contract breast cancer, the typical age is over 70, and these men are mostly in their thirties and forties.
While your cancer may not be presumed by the VA to be related to Lejeune exposure, the way we perceive carcinogens is changing. Cancer is not always about exposure to one specific chemical, but likely is the result of exposure to several different chemicals that can promote the growth of cancerous cells in the body, or prevent them from being repaired or exterminated. While the VA may not automatically connect your cancer to Lejeune exposure, when confronted by a torrent of research showing your cancer is “at least as likely as not” caused by Lejeune water contamination, they may have no choice but to accept the facts.