Marines exposed to chemical at Camp Lejeune had higher Parkinson’s risk: study

FILE – In this March 19, 2013 file photo, the globe and anchor stand at the entrance to Camp Lejeune, N.C. The Obama administration has agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who had been exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. (AP Photo/Allen Breed, File)

Service members who were exposed to contaminated water while living at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. are 70 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease compared to military members stationed elsewhere, according to a new study released Monday. 

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are another confirmation of the damaging effects of the base’s toxic water, which service members and their families drank and bathed in from 1953 to 1987. 

Researchers looked at a specific swath of time, 1975 to 1985, when the water supply was contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and other volatile organic compounds at 70 times more than the permissible amount. 

The study, which included nearly 340,500 service members, “found that the risk of Parkinson disease was 70% higher in Camp Lejeune veterans compared with veterans stationed at a Marine Corps base where water was not contaminate,” according to the report. 

Parkinson’s, a lifelong and progressive brain disorder, causes uncontrollable movements of the body and affects nearly 1 million people in the United States. Researchers believe that Parkinson’s is largely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including exposure to toxic chemicals.  

TCE, a colorless solvent that was widely used in industry to clean metal starting in the 1920s, can remain in groundwater for long periods of time and sicken those who are exposed to it.  

Individuals exposed to TCE have higher risks of cancer, liver damage and nervous system and brain issues, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

In the study, researchers compared Camp Lejeune’s records to those from Camp Pendleton, Calif., which did not have contaminated water. 

They then looked at the same veterans’ health records from January 1997 to February 2021 to see who developed Parkinson’s or similar symptoms of the disease. 

The study did not include military spouses and children who also lived at the base and were exposed, though researchers concluded that the findings “suggest that exposure to trichloroethylene in water may increase the risk of Parkinson disease.” 

Camp Lejeune is at the center of dozens of pending civil lawsuits against the U.S. government for the hazardous conditions at the base. 

Though TCE contaminated the base’s water supply for nearly 30 years, military officials did not discover the water quality was compromised until 1982. 

Victims claim that Marine Corps leaders for years knowingly hid the problem and did not act quickly to fix it or notify former residents. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which funded the study, also lists Parkinson’s as one of several presumptive conditions related to being based there.  

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT), passed last year, allows individuals to seek benefits from the VA or sue the government for illness caused by the contaminated water. 

Tags Camp Lejeune Marines Parkinson's TCE

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