Findings of Camp Lejeune contamination study questioned

The U.S. government issued another report that concludes there is uncertainty about the link between contamination of groundwater at Camp Lejeune and diseases among the residents.  All this really proves is that the conditions in the environment and in human bodies that might affect health are so complex that science is unable to determine direct causal links.   It reflects more the inadequacy of science to fully understand the complex process of disease formation.  And it underscores the argument for precautionary principle to guide decision making when there is reasonable suspicion that a contaminant may have an effect on health, even if direct causation cannot be proven.    The contaminants of concern at Lejeune are TCE and PCE, two chemicals found in the groundwater in Aiea and Wahiawa due to military contamination.   And the issue of childhood leukemia was a concern that arose in Lualualei in the early 1990s.   Hawai’i needs to pay attention to this.

Jun. 13, 2009 3:05 PM EDT

Lejeune water study finds no definite disease link

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune can’t definitively be linked to health problems among people who lived at the Marine base over three decades, according to a government report released Saturday.

Former residents of the base in eastern North Carolina don’t have diseases different from the general population and the industrial solvents that tainted well water there between the 1950s and 1985 were at concentrations that don’t cause obvious harm to human health, according to the report ordered by Congress and released by the National Research Council.

But the 341-page report, which reviews past studies of the base’s water and health issues there, said there are severe challenges in trying to connect the contaminants to any birth defects, cancer and many other ailments suffered by people who lived and worked on base.

It “cannot be determined reliably whether diseases and disorders experienced by former residents and workers at Camp Lejuene are associated with their exposure to contaminants in the water supply,” the report states.

“Even with scientific advances, the complex nature of the Camp Lejeune contamination and the limited data on the concentrations in water supplies allow for only crude estimates of exposure,” David Savitz, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.

The study says the Marines and Navy shouldn’t wait for more scientific studies before deciding how to deal with health problems reported by former base residents. And it calls into question the value of further studies.

“It would be extremely difficult to conduct direct epidemiologic studies of sufficient quality and scope to make a substantial contribution to resolving the health concerns of former Camp Lejeune residents. Conduct of research that is deficient in those respects not only would waste resources but has the potential to do harm by generating misleading results that erroneously implicate or exonerate the exposures of concern,” it states.

A Marine Corps spokesman, 1st Lt. Brian Block, said the service would study the report before making a statement.

“After a thorough review of the report, we will determine what the next appropriate steps are,” he said.

One longtime critic of the military’s handling of the issue said he wanted to question the study panel, which he said didn’t have all the information it needed about contaminants.

“This is a whitewash of the facts,” said Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine whose daughter was conceived on Camp Lejeune and died of childhood leukemia in 1985 at age 9.

Water was contaminated by dry cleaning solvents and other sources at the base’s major family housing areas – Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point, the report said. Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to the toxins tricholorethylene (TCE) or perchloroethylene (PCE) before the wells were closed 22 years ago.

But the sizeable number of people in those housing areas did not suffer more than “common diseases or disorders,” said the study by the working arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The lowest doses at which adverse health effects have been seen in animal or clinical studies are many times higher than the worst-case (highest) assumed exposures at Camp Lejeune. However, that does not rule out the possibility that other, more subtle health effects that have not been well studied could occur, although it somewhat diminishes their likelihood,” it states.

North Carolina’s senators have said they will seek details about the contamination from the military. Calls to the offices of Senators Kay Hagan, D-NC, and Richard Burr, R-NC, were not immediately returned Saturday.

Hagan said last month she and Burr were asking the Navy for details about gaps in information.

Federal health officials withdrew a 1997 assessment of health effects from the contamination at Camp Lejeune because of omissions and scientific inaccuracy. The assessment said the chemicals posed little or no cancer risk to adults who were exposed to the past water contamination at Camp Lejeune.


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