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 EPA maximum contaminant level 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 graphpdf icon icon and tablepdf icon icon.

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, benzene, 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. ATSDR modeled the contamination and determined that at least one VOC exceeded its current EPA maximum contaminant level in finished water between August 1953 and January 1985.

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 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.

5. 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.

Note: Information on the health effects linked to these chemicals can be found at: Reported health effects linked with trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride (VC) exposure.

Page last reviewed: January 16, 2014