Federal health officials said Thursday that a new study showing veterans exposed to Camp Lejeune's polluted drinking water died of cancer more often than those at a base with clean water is a significant step toward understanding how contamination may have sickened people.
"We think the study makes an important contribution to the body of evidence in relationship to exposures (to pollution) and health effects," said Dr. Vikas Kapil, chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Kapil cautioned the study is not proof of a definitive link between contaminated water and cancers.
"Typically a body of evidence develops over a period of time that helps to build a case" linking contaminants to disease, Kapil said. "I think we're doing that. We're trying to build that body of evidence."
The mortality study released Wednesday by scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry — an arm of the CDC — examined Marines and Navy personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. from 1975 to 1985, a time its water was fouled by solvents and other chemicals. Death rates for all cancers at Camp Lejeune were 10 percent higher than at California's Camp Pendleton, whose water was never contaminated, the study said.
Kapil cautioned that the number of deaths examined is still relatively small. Most veterans at the base in that time frame are under the age of 55. So as additional deaths are recorded, the study noted, confidence in the study's numbers increases.
Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine spokeswoman, said the mortality study did not provide a conclusive link between disease and pollution at Camp Lejeune.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.