Health Study Activities (FAQs)
- What progress has ATSDR made on its current study of contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune?
- Which conditions does ATSDR’s current study include?
- Why does the current ATSDR study examine only the period from 1968 to 1985?
- Why does the current epidemiologic study focus only on a few birth defects rather than all birth defects?
- Can you add me to the current study?
- Why aren’t you studying all diseases?
1. What progress has ATSDR made on its current study of contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune?
The current study, “Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds in Drinking Water and Specific Birth Defects and Childhood Cancers at United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina,” investigates whether children born from 1968 through 1985 have increased risk for specific health effects. These are children born to mothers who for some time during their pregnancy were exposed to VOC-contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Participants were interviewed in spring/summer 2005 about where they lived at Camp Lejeune, their medical history, and their personal habits.
Currently ATSDR is also completing its water modeling of the base. Water modeling is a scientific method that will help ATSDR estimate water-system conditions prior to March 1987. Water modeling will help identify where and when certain areas at Camp Lejeune received VOC-contaminated drinking water.
The current study should be completed in 2008.
A 1999–2002 telephone survey identified 106 parent-reported cases of selected birth defects and cancers in children born to women who for some time during their pregnancies lived at Camp Lejeune between 1968 and 1985. The parents reported
- 35 neural tube defects (NTDs), consisting of anencephaly and spina bifida;
- 42 oral cleft defects; and
- 29 childhood hematopoietic cancers, consisting of childhood leukemias and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The status of the reported cases is
- Neural Tube Defects (NTDs):
- 17 were confirmed as having NTDs;
- 13 were confirmed as nothaving NTDs; and
- 1 was ineligible, 2 refused to participate, and medical records could not be obtained for 2 reported cases.
- Oral clefts (consisting of cleft lip or cleft palate):
- 24 were confirmed as having oral cleft defects;
- 11 were confirmed as not having oral cleft defects; and
- 3 refused to participate and medical records could not be obtained for 4 reported cases.
- Childhood hematopoietic cancers, that is, childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
- 16 were confirmed as hematopoietic cancers;
- 8 were confirmed as not having hematopoietic cancers; and
- 2 were ineligible, 2 refused to participate, and medical records could not be obtained for 1 reported case.
The study is restricted to children born between 1968 and 1985 because 1) 1968 is the first year that North Carolina began collecting birth certificate data in a computerized database, and 2) 1985 was when the heavily contaminated wells were shut down. However, any findings from the study would also apply to children born before 1968 if the mothers received contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Searching for those born prior to North Carolina’s system going on-line would have been extremely difficult.
4. Why does the current epidemiologic study focus only on a few birth defects rather than all birth defects?
The current study includes four birth defects: anencephaly, spina bifida, cleft lip, and cleft palate, and two childhood cancers: leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. ATSDR chose to study these birth defects and childhood cancers because previous studies suggest that the chemicals in some of the drinking water at Camp Lejeune during 1968–1985 might cause these health effects.
ATSDR had hoped to study additional birth defects. We found, however, that the survey could not reliably identify birth defects other than these four.
Another problem is that birth defect studies do not normally use a survey to identify cases. Studies of birth defects are either hospital-based or collect data from a statewide birth defects registry. Hospital-based studies collect data from hospitals that serve the study area. We could not perform a hospital-based study of birth defects because 1) medical records for those born at Camp Lejeune were no longer available at the base hospital, and 2) during 1968–1985 an estimated 4,000 pregnant women transferred from Camp Lejeune before giving birth. Also, during 1968–1985 North Carolina did not maintain a birth defect registry.
The four birth defects in our study are obvious at birth, and we believe we have identified most if not all of the cases of the defects through the survey. To study other birth defects is not practical if we cannot identify all or most of them, and if we cannot confirm them by medical records.
The current study is closed. Data collection for this study officially ended in July 2005. However, any findings from the study would also apply to children born before 1968 if the expectant mothers received contaminated drinking water while living at Camp Lejeune.
An epidemiologic study cannot accurately evaluate all diseases at once. A scientifically credible study must limit its focus to diseases that it can reliably identify and confirm. This way, the study can avoid serious errors and produce useful and accurate data.
Because the unborn young are at a stage in life when they are most sensitive to contaminated drinking water, ATSDR decided to focus first on diseases that might occur in fetuses.
ATSDR is currently assessing the feasibility of conducting additional studies of other populations who lived or worked at the base, including adults and children. Studies under consideration include a mortality study and a cancer incidence study.
Former residents and employees of Camp Lejeune can now register at the official Marine Corps water study website for notification and information regarding past drinking water contamination. The address is https://clnr.hqi.usmc.mil/external icon. You can also contact the Marine Corps Call Center staff at 1-877-261-9782, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.