A new analysis of U.S. service members has revealed that veterans who served at Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune face an elevated risk of Parkinson’s disease, potentially affecting millions of individuals.
A large-scale study published in JAMA Neurology involving nearly 350,000 Camp Lejeune veterans found that the risk of Parkinson’s disease was increased by 70 percent among Marines stationed at the North Carolina base between 1975 and 1985 compared to those stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
The researchers attribute this heightened risk to the exposure of trichloroethylene, which was present in the water that the troops consumed, used for bathing, and employed in food preparation at Camp Lejeune.
Contamination Affected Families, Daycares
Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine Corps base in the United States, encompasses various military commands and training centers and additional facilities like daycare centers, schools, family housing areas, gyms, and a hospital.
In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered drinking water from two out of the eight water treatment plants on the base was contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals are commonly found in petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners, and dry cleaning agents.
The primary source of contamination was the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant, which contained perchloroethylene (PCE) or tetrachloroethylene (TCE). This contamination resulted from improper waste disposal practices at the off-base dry cleaner, ABC One-Hour Cleaners.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal public health agency, it is believed that exposures to TCE, PCE, vinyl chloride, and other contaminants in the water at Camp Lejeune likely increased the risk of cancers and other diseases. These diseases include kidney problems, multiple myeloma, leukemias, and adverse birth outcomes, affecting the health of all residents, including infants, children, civilian workers, and Marine and Navy personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune.
The recent study examined the health records of 172,128 veterans from Camp Lejeune and 168,361 from Camp Pendleton, all of whom had served for a minimum of three months between 1975 and 1985. Follow-up observations were conducted from Jan. 1, 1997, to Feb. 17, 2021.
Both groups exhibited similar demographic characteristics, with the majority being white men at an average age of 59.
The study revealed that out of the total participants, 430 veterans were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, with 279 cases from Camp Lejeune and 151 cases from Camp Pendleton. The analysis conducted by researchers determined that Camp Lejeune veterans faced a 70 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those stationed at a Marine Corps base without contaminated water.
The study also found that veterans without Parkinson’s disease had a significantly elevated risk for various prodromal features associated with Parkinson’s disease. These prodromal symptoms encompassed cognitive impairment and REM-sleep behavior disorder (RBD).
“The study’s findings suggest that the risk of PD (Parkinson’s disease) is higher in persons exposed to TCE and other VOCs in water four decades ago,” the researchers concluded. “Millions worldwide have been and continue to be exposed to this ubiquitous environmental contaminant.”
Marine Corps Delayed Addressing Issue for Decades
A 2010 House of Representatives Hearing noted that it took the Marine Corps over four years to close contaminated drinking water wells. It took an act of Congress 24 years later to make the military inform veterans of their exposure and potential health impacts.
The hearing also revealed that in 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) received 191 claims from Camp Lejeune veterans. Out of those, 15 to 16 cases were reviewed, and ultimately five to six veterans were granted claims where the VA determined their illnesses were likely caused by chemical exposures from Camp Lejeune drinking water.
TCE has long been associated with severe health outcomes and is banned in the European Union and two U.S. states (New York and Minnesota).
In a recent research article, Dr. Earl Ray Dorsey, professor of neurology at the University of Rochester, and colleagues called for a ban on TCE due to its links to multiple health problems, including Parkinson’s disease. “Through a literature review and seven illustrative cases, we postulate that this ubiquitous chemical is contributing to the global rise of PD (Parkinson’s disease) and that TCE is one of its invisible and highly preventable causes,” Dorsey and the team wrote.
Dorsey told The Epoch Times that the new study linking TCE exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune “certainly adds to” evidence of this chemical’s potential to cause harm. He also noted that a study conducted a decade ago found that twins with occupational/hobby exposure to TCE during World War II had a 500 percent increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease compared to those who were not exposed.
“In addition, we know from laboratory studies [that] when you feed TCE to either mice or rats, they develop the clinical and pathological features of Parkinson’s disease,” he added.
Dorsey pointed out that TCE, along with other chemicals like paraquat, which are linked to Parkinson’s disease, affects the mitochondria, the energy-producing parts of cells damaged in Parkinson’s disease.
“So we now have increasingly good epidemiological evidence, good animal studies, all suggesting that TCE may be a real important cause of Parkinson’s,” he said.
When asked about the certainty of developing the degenerative neurological disorder due to TCE exposure, Dosey emphasized that, like in life, there are no guarantees in science.
He drew a parallel between smoking and lung cancer. “Only 10 percent of smokers get lung cancer, but that doesn’t detract away from the fact that smoking causes lung cancer,” he said. “So only a small minority of people who get exposed to TCE will develop Parkinson’s disease, but as you can see from the study, the risk is increased by 70 percent, [and] that’s likely an underestimate.”
Dorsey, co-author of “Ending Parkinson’s Disease,” says he believes the disease is preventable and is donating the proceeds from his book toward that goal. “Parkinson’s disease, the world’s fastest-growing brain disease—much of it may be preventable, and we now have really good evidence for what one of those preventable causes is,” he said. “If we, like other nations in Western Europe, ban this chemical, we can get closer to a day where Parkinson’s disease is increasingly rare, instead of increasingly common.”