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 Treatment Plant was 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) modeled the contamination and determined that the Tarawa Terrace system had PCE levels that exceeded the current standard of 5 micrograms per liter (μg/L) for 346 months between November 1957 and February 1987. (Note: 1 μg/L of a drinking water contaminant is equivalent to 1 part per billion or ppb) The most contaminated wells were shut down in February 1985.
Water from the Hadnot Point Treatment Plant was contaminated primarily by TCE (trichloroethylene). Other contaminants in the drinking water included DCE (t-1,2-dichloroethylene), PCE and benzene. The system was contaminated by multiple sources: leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites. ATSDR is currently modeling the Hadnot Point system.
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.