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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Evaluation of exposure to contaminated drinking water and specific birth defects and childhood cancers at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: a case–control study

Perri Zeitz Ruckart1*, Frank J Bove1 and Morris Maslia2

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Highway, MS F-58, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA

2 Division of Community Health Investigations, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Highway, MS F-59, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA

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Environmental Health 2013, 12:104  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-104

Published: 4 December 2013

Abstract

Background

Drinking water supplies at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were contaminated with trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene, vinyl chloride and trans-1,2-dichloroethylene during 1968 through 1985.

Methods

We conducted a case control study to determine if children born during 1968–1985 to mothers with residential exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune during pregnancy were more likely to have childhood hematopoietic cancers, neural tube defects (NTDs), or oral clefts. For cancers, exposures during the first year of life were also evaluated. Cases and controls were identified through a survey of parents residing on base during pregnancy and confirmed by medical records. Controls were randomly sampled from surveyed participants who had a live birth without a major birth defect or childhood cancer. Groundwater contaminant fate and transport and distribution system models provided estimates of monthly levels of drinking water contaminants at mothers’ residences. Magnitude of odds ratios (ORs) was used to assess associations. Confidence intervals (CIs) were used to indicate precision of ORs. We evaluated parental characteristics and pregnancy history to assess potential confounding.

Results

Confounding was negligible so unadjusted results were presented. For NTDs and average 1st trimester exposures, ORs for any benzene exposure and for trichloroethylene above 5 parts per billion were 4.1 (95% CI: 1.4-12.0) and 2.4 (95% CI: 0.6-9.6), respectively. For trichloroethylene, a monotonic exposure response relationship was observed. For childhood cancers and average 1st trimester exposures, ORs for any tetrachloroethylene exposure and any vinyl chloride exposure were 1.6 (95% CI: 0.5-4.8), and 1.6 (95% CI: 0.5-4.7), respectively. The study found no evidence suggesting any other associations between outcomes and exposures.

Conclusion

Although CIs were wide, ORs suggested associations between drinking water contaminants and NTDs. ORs suggested weaker associations with childhood hematopoietic cancers.

Keywords:
Neural tube defects; Childhood cancers; Environmental epidemiology; Trichloroethylene; Water