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Kids' Health at Base Probed Nearby Toxins Polluted Water at Camp Lejeune

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Washington --- Federal epidemiologists seeking to gauge the effects of water contamination will study the cases of 103 children who suffered birth defects or childhood cancer after their mothers lived at Camp Lejeune while pregnant, officials said Friday.

The cancers and birth defects were identified in a survey. It was designed to determine whether toxins from a since-designated Superfund site near the U.S. Marine base in North Carolina affected the health of people living there, said Dr. Wendy Kaye, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for the Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The children were among 12,600 whose mothers were pregnant while living at Camp Lejeune from 1968 to 1985, when contaminated wells that provided water for base housing were shut down, Kaye said.

Water from the wells was found to contain the toxic compounds trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, known respectively as TCE and PCE, Kaye said. TCE is a solvent that is generally used to remove grease from metal parts in places such as automobile garages and motor pools, she said, while PCE is a dry-cleaning solvent.

A since-closed laundry near the base, ABC One Hour Cleaners, was the source of contamination that led to a Superfund site designation, she said.

The epidemiological study will look at cases of anencephaly, in which a portion of the brain is missing; spina bifida; cleft lip; cleft palate; childhood leukemia; and childhood lymphoma to determine whether they are related to prenatal exposure to the contaminated wells.

Kaye noted that Camp Lejeune is a training base where people do not remain for long. It took nearly 15 years to track down people who had lived on the base and collect data on births and childhood disease, she said.

The study comes as the Bush administration is asking Congress to exempt the armed forces from some environmental laws and regulations, including the Clean Water Act, the Superfund law, the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammals Protection Act. The Defense Department has said that compliance with the laws interferes with training and preparedness.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a private environmental activist organization, is resisting the move.

''I wish I could say I was surprised that there's a contamination problem around'' Camp Lejeune, said Erik Olson, an attorney and drinking water expert with the group. ''Unfortunately, it's fairly common around defense sites.''

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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