WASHINGTON As many as 75,000 people may have drunk water contaminated by dry cleaning fluid at the U.S. Marine base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
The contamination lasted for 30 years until the affected wells were closed. Marines and their families drank the contaminated water during base assignments of an average of 2 years, the CDC said.
The water was polluted with tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE, a dry cleaning solvent that has been linked with cancer, the CDC said.
"The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that PCE may be a carcinogen," the CDC said in a statement.
"But the effects of consumers' exposure to drinking water contaminated with PCE are not known. Some health studies have found adverse effects in occupational settings. However, exposure to PCE alone typically does not mean a person will experience adverse health effects," the CDC said.
The affected area is the Tarawa Terrace family housing area, and the contamination lasted from November 1957 through February 1987, the agency said. An off-base dry cleaners leaked the fluid into a septic system near the housing area's well.
"The maximum concentration of PCE in Tarawa Terrace drinking water was estimated to be about 200 micrograms per liter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's EPA maximum contaminant level (was) 5 micrograms per liter during the period," the CDC said.
High levels of lead were found in tap water at Camp Lejeune in 1994, and pesticides were found in the soil. Other potentially harmful chemicals have been found in the water of other housing areas on the camp, as well, according to previous reports published by the CDC.
Government toxicology experts have been studying the health of babies born there from 1968 to 1985.
PCE is a volatile organic compound. Some compounds in this class have been linked with birth defects such as cleft palate or spina bifida, and childhood cancers. The CDC encouraged anyone who may have been affected to get regular health checks.
Last year, a team at Columbia University in New York found some evidence to suggest that PCE may be linked with schizophrenia.