Poisoned Water (Original Mix)
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In the early 1980s, two water-supply systems on the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were found to be contaminated with the industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). The water systems were supplied by the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water-treatment plants, which served enlisted-family housing, barracks for unmarried service personnel, base administrative offices, schools, and recreational areas. The Hadnot Point water system also served the base hospital and an industrial area and supplied water to housing on the Holcomb Boulevard water system (full-time until 1972 and periodically thereafter).
There has been considerable public controversy over the potential health consequences for former residents who were exposed to the contaminated water. TCE and PCE are known to have toxic effects in animals and in humans, so it is important to understand the scale and extent of exposure that occurred at the base to assess effects on the health of former residents. Only a few studies have been performed specifically on former residents of the base. To supplement those evaluations and to help to inform decisions about addressing health claims, the U.S. Navy was directed by Congress (Public Law 109-364, Section 318) to ask the National Research Council to address independently questions about whether any health outcomes are associated with past contamination of the water supply at Camp Lejeune. The National Research Council assembled a multidisciplinary committee of environmental scientists, toxicologists, epidemiologists, and biostatisticians to review the scientific evidence on associations between adverse health effects and historical data on prenatal, childhood, and adult exposures to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. The committee was asked to focus its attention on toxicologic and epidemiologic literature on TCE and PCE and to consider studies of Camp Lejeune residents and other populations exposed to the contaminants of concern and proposals for additional studies of Camp Lejeune residents.
To address its task, the committee divided its investigation into two major categories: assessing exposure to contaminants in the water supply and assessing the possible health effects associated with the contaminants. The reviews were then integrated to ascertain whether conclusions could be drawn about the likelihood that outcomes in people who lived or worked in the affected areas of the base were caused by the contaminated water supplies. The contribution of past and current studies of the Camp Lejeune population was evaluated, as was the potential contributions of future research on this population.
The residential areas served by the two water systems were primarily enlisted family housing and barracks for unmarried service personnel. Thus, many of the exposed were young families and people of reproductive age. The population was also transient, with some people living on the base for a few months for training or for a few years for longer assignments.
The water-supply contamination scenario for Hadnot Point is much more complex than that for Tarawa Terrace because there were multiple sources and contaminants. The extent of contamination has not yet been characterized, inasmuch as historical reconstruction or groundwater modeling has not yet been performed for Hadnot Point. The committee therefore relied on site descriptions of source areas, laboratory reports and other documentation of supply-water sampling, and results of monitoring of groundwater wells that were installed as part of remedial investigations to characterize likely exposures. Numerous sites have been identified as possibly contributing to the contamination of the groundwater, including an industrial area, a drum dump, a transformer storage lot, an industrial fly-ash dump, an open storage pit, a former fire training area, a site of a former on-base dry cleaner, a liquid-disposal area, a former burn dump, a fuel-tank sludge area, and the site of the original base dump. TCE appears to be the primary contaminant of concern on the basis of measurement data from the 1980s, but many other chemicals had the potential to contaminate the water supply, given the nature of activities at sites near the supply wells. Other chemicals measured in the water supply included PCE, vinyl chloride, 1,1-DCE, 1,2-DCE, methylene chloride, benzene, and toluene. Sampling performed in the early 1990s as part of remedial investigations also detected metals in monitoring wells, but little if any metal analysis was conducted for the timeframe of interest (1943-1985), and the committee did not review such data. Qualitative evidence suggests that the potential magnitude of groundwater contamination appears to have been much higher at Hadnot Point than at Tarawa Terrace.
Places and dates of residence are key determinants of likely exposure at Camp Lejeune, but individual behaviors also affect the magnitude of exposure. Such behavior includes water consumption, showering or bathing patterns, and other water-related behavior (such as dishwashing). Such information is not available in archival records, and it is far too remote in time for accurate recall. A study in progress evaluating birth defects and childhood cancers is collecting self-reported water-use information from surviving mothers of offspring in the study, but the data are not yet available. The contaminated water systems also supplied nonresidential areas of the base, including schools, workplaces, recreational areas, and a hospital. Water-use patterns and behavior in those setting are expected to differ substantially from residential uses and behavior. In addition, the residential and nonresidential exposures could overlap, and people could have been exposed to contaminated water at multiple locations.
There are a number of difficulties with performing the mortality and cancer incidence studies, including identifying, locating, and recruiting the study participants and obtaining reliable health information on them in an efficient manner. The committee found that although ATSDR considered the major issues bearing on the feasibility of the studies and proposed reasonable approaches to address them, there remain serious, unresolved questions about the feasibility and ultimate value of the studies. For example, it is not clear that the cancer incidence study could be performed successfully, because it is contingent on the cooperation of many state cancer registries. Even with cooperation, the statistical power to compare groups of interest across the range of outcomes has yet to be assessed. Statistical power is also an issue with the mortality study. The quality of exposure assessment remains problematic as well. On the basis of information reviewed, the committee considers it unlikely that the proposed studies, even if the notable uncertainties about feasibility are all resolved favorably, will produce results of sufficient certainty to resolve the question of whether Camp Lejeune residents suffered adverse health effects from contaminated water.
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.
Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas that, at high levels, has a mild, sweet odor. Vinyl chloride is a manufactured substance, used mostly to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic products. Vinyl chloride can enter the air, soil and groundwater following improper disposal of chemical wastes.
The most common way people are exposed to vinyl chloride is through breathing contaminated air. If your water supply is contaminated, showering, bathing, or cooking with the water can release vinyl chloride into the air where you can breathe it. Drinking contaminated water also can expose you to vinyl chloride. People may begin to taste vinyl chloride in water at 3,400 parts per billion (ppb).Vinyl chloride is not easily absorbed by the skin.
Breathing very high levels of vinyl chloride over several years may cause immune disorders and damage to the liver, kidneys and nerves. Workers exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride for several years have higher rates of liver cancer. Pregnant women may have an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects when exposed to very high levels of vinyl chloride in air. These high levels would not be expected in a home. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has determined that drinking water with 2 ppb of vinyl chloride over an entire lifetime corresponds to an excess lifetime cancer risk of one in 10,000.
You should avoid drinking or cooking with water contaminated with over 2 ppb of vinyl chloride. Installation of an in-home activated carbon filter can remove most of the vinyl chloride from water. Using bottled water also will reduce exposure. If you use contaminated water for other uses in the home (i.e. bathing, and washing dishes), ventilate bathrooms, washrooms and kitchens during and after water use.
If you are connected to a public water system, your water is regularly tested for vinyl chloride. If you have a private well, you can get your water tested by a private laboratory listed in your local phone book. If vinyl chloride is detected in your water, contact your local or state health department.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum contaminant level of 2 ppb of vinyl chloride for public drinking water supplies. This standard is established to reduce the chance of adverse health effects from drinking contaminated water. This level also can be used as a guideline for private drinking water sources. 781b155fdc