U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina was established in 1942. In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water provided by two of the eight water treatment plants on base.
Water from the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was primarily contaminated by PCE (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene). The source of the contamination was the waste disposal practices at ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning firm. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) used a data analysis and modeling approach to reconstruct historical contaminant concentrations. Using these approaches, ATSDR estimated that PCE concentrations exceeded the current EPA maximum contaminant level of 5 ppb in drinking water from the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant for 346 months during November 1957-February 1987. The most contaminated wells were shut down in February 1985.
Water from the Hadnot Point water treatment plant was contaminated primarily by TCE (trichloroethylene). Other contaminants in the drinking water included PCE and benzene and TCE degradation products trans-1,2-DCE (t-1,2-dichloroethylene) and vinyl chloride. Supply wells were contaminated by multiple sources: leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites. ATSDR modeled the contamination and estimated that at least one VOC exceeded its current EPA maximum contaminant level in drinking water during August 1953 and January 1985.
Additional details on the water contamination situation at Camp Lejeune are available.
Information on the health effects of these drinking water contaminants is located here. Most available information comes from animal studies or studies of workers who use these chemicals in their workplace. Very few studies have been conducted of people exposed to these chemicals in their drinking water.
ATSDR has been assessing the effects of exposure to drinking water containing VOCs since 1993. More information about ATSDR's health studies can be found here.