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Evaluation of mortality among marines and navy personnel exposed to contaminated drinking water at USMC base Camp Lejeune: a retrospective cohort study

Frank J Bove1*, Perri Zeitz Ruckart1, Morris Maslia2 and Theodore C Larson1

Author Affiliations

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

2 ATSDR, Division of Community Health Investigations, 4770 Buford Highway, MS F-59, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA

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Environmental Health 2014, 13:10  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-13-10

Published: 19 February 2014



Two drinking water systems at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina were contaminated with solvents during 1950s-1985.


We conducted a retrospective cohort mortality study of Marine and Naval personnel who began service during 1975-1985 and were stationed at Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton, California during this period. Camp Pendleton’s drinking water was uncontaminated. Mortality follow-up was 1979-2008. Standardized Mortality Ratios were calculated using U.S. mortality rates as reference. We used survival analysis to compare mortality rates between Camp Lejeune (N = 154,932) and Camp Pendleton (N = 154,969) cohorts and assess effects of cumulative exposures to contaminants within the Camp Lejeune cohort. Models estimated monthly contaminant levels at residences. Confidence intervals (CIs) indicated precision of effect estimates.


There were 8,964 and 9,365 deaths respectively, in the Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton cohorts. Compared to Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune had elevated mortality hazard ratios (HRs) for all cancers (HR = 1.10, 95% CI: 1.00, 1.20), kidney cancer (HR = 1.35, 95% CI: 0.84, 2.16), liver cancer (HR = 1.42, 95% CI: 0.92, 2.20), esophageal cancer (HR = 1.43 95% CI: 0.85, 2.38), cervical cancer (HR = 1.33, 95% CI: 0.24, 7.32), Hodgkin lymphoma (HR = 1.47, 95% CI: 0.71, 3.06), and multiple myeloma (HR = 1.68, 95% CI: 0.76, 3.72). Within the Camp Lejeune cohort, monotonic categorical cumulative exposure trends were observed for kidney cancer and total contaminants (HR, high cumulative exposure = 1.54, 95% CI: 0.63, 3.75; log10 β = 0.06, 95% CI: -0.05, 0.17), Hodgkin lymphoma and trichloroethylene (HR, high cumulative exposure = 1.97, 95% CI: 0.55, 7.03; β = 0.00005, 95% CI: -0.00003, 0.00013) and benzene (HR, high cumulative exposure = 1.94, 95% CI: 0.54, 6.95; β = 0.00203, 95% CI: -0.00339, 0.00745). Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) had HR = 2.21 (95% CI: 0.71, 6.86) at high cumulative vinyl chloride exposure but a non-monotonic exposure-response relationship (β = 0.0011, 95% CI: 0.0002, 0.0020).


The study found elevated HRs at Camp Lejeune for several causes of death including cancers of the kidney, liver, esophagus, cervix, multiple myeloma, Hodgkin lymphoma and ALS. CIs were wide for most HRs. Because <6% of the cohort had died, long-term follow-up would be necessary to comprehensively assess effects of drinking water exposures at the base.

Mortality; Cancers; Trichloroethylene; Tetrachloroethylene; Vinyl chloride; Benzene; Drinking water