TCE and Camp Lejeune

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a man-made, colorless liquid that is used in a wide range of industrial and commercial applications. It is an effective solvent and degreaser and is commonly used to clean metal parts, electronic components, and other materials. While TCE has many practical uses, it is also a potent carcinogen and poses a significant risk to human health.

TCE is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that can easily evaporate into the air. When TCE is released into the environment, it can contaminate the soil and groundwater, leading to widespread exposure. TCE exposure is particularly dangerous because it can accumulate in the body over time, causing long-term health effects.

The health risks associated with TCE exposure are significant, and the impact of TCE contamination can be devastating for affected communities. The costs of treating TCE-related illnesses can be astronomical, and the emotional toll on affected individuals and families can be immeasurable.

Despite the significant risks associated with TCE exposure, regulation of TCE has been slow to develop. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level of 5 parts per billion for TCE in drinking water, but this regulation is not legally enforceable. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also set a permissible exposure limit.

February 2023 Update: Last month, the EPA published amended risk evaluations for TCE exposure. The revised EPA risk assessment for TCE is based on TCE as a “whole chemical substance” and is based on the assumption that workers are not always wearing personal protective equipment when exposed. In the new risk assessment, the EPA concludes that TCE presents “an unreasonable risk of injury to human health.” This new determination gives the EPA the ability to take several actions to address the risk, including new regulations restricting the manufacture, use, or sale of TCE. The EPA is currently in the process of drafting new proposed regulations regarding TCE.

TCE and Cancer

One of the most significant risks of TCE exposure is the development of cancer. TCE has been linked to several types of cancer, including kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified TCE as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that TCE is a human carcinogen.

TCE and Central Nervous System Injuries

In addition to cancer, TCE exposure can also cause other serious health problems. One of the most common health effects of TCE exposure is damage to the central nervous system. TCE is a neurotoxin, which means that it can cause damage to the brain and nervous system. Exposure to TCE can cause dizziness, headaches, confusion, and other neurological symptoms. Long-term exposure to TCE can also lead to permanent damage to the nervous system, including memory loss, cognitive impairment, and tremors.

TCE and Respiratory System Injuries

TCE exposure can also affect the respiratory system, leading to respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis. Exposure to TCE can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and can lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, TCE exposure can cause respiratory failure, which can be life-threatening.

TCE and Pregnant Women and Birth Defects

Pregnant women are also at particular risk from TCE exposure. TCE exposure during pregnancy can lead to a range of birth defects, including heart defects, neural tube defects, and limb defects. Exposure to TCE during pregnancy has also been linked to low birth weight and preterm birth.


TCE Exposure

One of the most concerning aspects of TCE exposure is that it can occur in many different ways. TCE can be inhaled as a gas or vapor, absorbed through the skin, or ingested in contaminated food or water. People who work in industries that use TCE, such as dry cleaners, metal plating facilities, and electronics manufacturers, are at particular risk of exposure. However, TCE contamination can also occur in residential areas near industrial sites, leading to exposure for residents.

TCE is a widespread environmental contaminant, and many areas across the United States have been affected by TCE contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified over 1,000 sites across the country that are contaminated with TCE. Many of these sites are former industrial facilities, but TCE contamination can also occur from spills, leaks, and improper disposal of TCE-containing products.

The Camp Lejeune TCE Disaster

Camp Lejeune is a U.S. Marine Corps base located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Between the 1950s and 1980s, the drinking water at the base was contaminated with a number of toxic chemicals, including TCE, which was used in large quantities for degreasing machinery and equipment. The TCE contamination at Camp Lejeune was first discovered in the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1989 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the base as a Superfund site, which is a federal program that cleans up the nation’s most hazardous waste sites.

The contamination of Camp Lejeune’s water supply with TCE and other hazardous chemicals has had serious health consequences for many veterans and their families. TCE is a known carcinogen and has been linked to a number of health problems, including liver and kidney damage, immune system dysfunction, and neurological damage. Exposure to TCE has also been linked to birth defects, developmental disorders, and other reproductive problems.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established a presumptive service connection for eight diseases associated with exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. These diseases include adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Parkinson’s disease. This means that veterans who served at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and who have been diagnosed with one of these eight diseases are presumed to have been exposed to the contaminated water and may be eligible for disability compensation and other benefits.

In addition to the health risks for veterans and their families, the TCE contamination at Camp Lejeune has also had environmental consequences. The contamination has spread beyond the base’s borders and has affected the surrounding communities. Many private wells in the area have been found to be contaminated with TCE and other toxic chemicals, and residents have reported health problems such as cancer and other illnesses that may be linked to the contamination.

Efforts to clean up the contamination at Camp Lejeune have been ongoing for many years. The cleanup has involved the treatment of contaminated groundwater and the removal of contaminated soil and other materials. The U.S. Marine Corps has also implemented a number of measures to prevent further contamination of the base’s water supply, such as the replacement of aging pipes and the installation of new water treatment systems.

In conclusion, the TCE contamination at Camp Lejeune is a tragic example of the dangers of exposure to hazardous chemicals. The contamination has had serious health consequences for many veterans and their families, and has also had environmental impacts that have affected the surrounding communities. Efforts to clean up the contamination and prevent further exposure are ongoing, and it is important that we continue to study the long-term health effects of TCE and other toxic chemicals so that we can better protect our communities and prevent similar tragedies in the future.


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