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Contaminated Camp Lejeune water supply explained

READ MORE: Contaminated Camp Lejeune water supply explained

CAMP LEJEUNE -- The contaminated water supply at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987 has been a hot topic for years. More than 75,000 Marines and their families were exposed to toxic tap water that contained the chemicals TCE and PCE. But what exactly are those chemicals?

The chemical compound trichloroethlylene, better known as TCE, is a chlorinated hydrocarbon. It is a clear non-flammable liquid with a sweet smell that is commonly used as a degreaser.

Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, is called PCE for short. This chemical compound is also a nonflammable liquid with a sharp, sweet odor that is used for dry-cleaning and also metal de-greasing.

The problem is once they get into the water column they don't break down very readily and so they are around for a long time. And if they get to the bottom and settle out it becomes a real problem trying to get rid of them.

TCE was first detected in groundwater in 1977. It is one of the most frequently detected contaminants in groundwater, with roughly a third of the drinking water supply sources tested in the US having some TCE contamination. Most of those locations did meet the EPA's drinking water standard of five parts per billion.

One of the problems we deal with in southeastern North Carolina is of course we have very sandy soil. So if something spills on our soil, there is not really much to bind it so it runs through the sand like a siv and ends up in the water column. That's a problem with these kinds of compounds.

That's a problem because these compounds may have long-term effects that we may not know of. One of the main questions still left to be answered is whether or not these compounds are carcinogenic or cancer-causing.

There have been studied, contradictory studies, regarding this, but in a report the national academy of science put out indicated that there was a strong correlation between studies of animals developing kidney cancer and these compounds. And they thought that this correlation extended possibly to humans.

That's why investigators and researchers continue to study the Camp Lejeune water case.

The National Research Council Committee held a public meeting last Thursday to gather information for its report on the potential adverse heath effects caused by these chemicals on Camp Lejeune. This report is expected to be issued late next year.

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