Chemicals at Camp Lejeune (FAQs)
1. What chemicals were found at the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant?
Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or “PCE”) was the main contaminant. The maximum level detected in drinking water was 215 parts per billion (μg/L) in February 1985. The source of contamination was ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning firm. The most highly contaminated wells were shut down in February 1985. Water modeling that ATSDR conducted for the Tarawa Terrace system is complete. Based on the model results, PCE concentration was estimated to have exceeded the current limit of 5 μg/L in drinking water at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant for 346 months during November 1957-February 1987. Over time, PCE degrades in ground water to trichloroethylene (TCE), trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE) and vinyl chloride. Levels of these chemicals in the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system were also estimated.
Levels of PCE and PCE by-products in the drinking water serving homes in Tarawa Terrace can be viewed in this graph http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/docs/FigureI29.pdf and table http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/docs/AppI5.pdf.
Benzene was also detected during the sampling of the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system in 1985. Benzene was detected at less than 2 ppb (parts per billion) which is much lower than the current U.S. standard of 5 ppb.
2. What chemicals were found at the Hadnot Point Treatment Plant?
Trichloroethylene (TCE) was the main contaminant. The maximum level detected in drinking water was 1,400 μg/L in May 1982. The current limit for TCE in drinking water is 5 μg/L. Other contaminants detected in finished water at the Hadnot Point treatment plant included DCE (trans 1,2-dichloroethylene), PCE, and vinyl chloride. DCE was detected at a maximum of 407 μg/L in January 1985. There are reported detections of benzene in the finished water at Hadnot Point in late 1985.
There were multiple sources of contamination including leaking underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites. The most highly contaminated wells were shut down by February 1985. The water modeling is ongoing. Currently, it is unknown when contamination of some Hadnot Point wells began, but it may have begun as early as the late 1940s or early 1950s. When the water modeling is completed, the dates when the system was contaminated will be determined.
3. What are tricholorethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene(PCE)?/What are VOCs?
TCE and PCE are chemicals that are used in dry cleaning and in cleaning metal parts of machines. VOCs are volatile organic compounds. They are a group of chemicals that generally include solvents and fuels that evaporate easily. TCE and PCE are examples of VOCs.
4. What health effects are linked to tricholorethylene (TCE)?
Occupational exposures to TCE have been linked to:
- Several adult cancers including kidney cancer, liver cancer, cervical cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma;
- Liver and kidney damage;
- Impaired immune system function and scleroderma;
- Neurological effects such as Parkinsonism, memory loss, attention deficit, and delayed reaction time; and
- Skin disorders.
TCE-contaminated drinking water has been linked to:
- Childhood leukemia in two studies;
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in one study;
- Deficits in specific neurobehavioral tests in one study (drinking water was contaminated with a mixture of VOCs including TCE and PCE)
- Neural tube defects and cleft lip and palate in one study;
- Heart defects in one study;
- Fetal death in one study; and
- Infants small for gestational age in two studies.
The level of TCE in drinking water that may cause cancer or other health problems is not known.
5. What are the health effects linked to perchloroethylene (PCE)?
Occupational exposures to PCE have been linked to:
- Several adult cancers including esophageal cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma;
- Kidney damage;
- Miscarriages; and
- Neurological effects such as memory loss, attention deficit, and delayed reaction time.
PCE-contaminated drinking water has been linked to:
- Several adult cancers in one study at Cape Cod MA, including bladder cancer, leukemia, breast cancer, lung cancer, and rectal cancer;
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in one study in northern NJ; and
- Oral clefts in one study.
The level of PCE in drinking water that may cause cancer or other health problems is not known.
6. What is benzene?
Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor that evaporates into the air very quickly and dissolves slightly in water.
Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals which are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.
7. What are the health effects linked to benzene?
Occupational exposure to benzene has been linked to acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Other possible diseases that have been linked to benzene include:
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia;
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia;
- Multiple myeloma;
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma;
- Aplastic anemia; and
- Spontaneous abortion
but the link is less certain for these diseases.
The level of benzene in drinking water that may cause cancer or other health problems is not known.
8. What is vinyl chloride?
Vinyl chloride (VC) is a colorless gas at room temperature. It is in liquid form if kept under high pressure or at low temperatures. VC has a mild, sweet odor and dissolves slightly in water. It is a manufactured substance that does not occur naturally. It can be formed when other substances such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) are broken down. VC is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is used to make a variety of plastic products, including pipes, wire and cable coatings, and packaging materials.
9. What are the health effects linked to vinyl chloride?
Vinyl chloride (VC) is a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). VC is also a known genotoxicant, which means it can cause chemical alterations of DNA in tissues that may lead to cancer.
Reported health problems in people of all ages from working with VC include—
- Liver cancer
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Brain cancer
- Lung cancer
- Liver cirrhosis