New research suggests that veterans who were stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina have a greater risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease compared to their counterparts who were stationed at other bases. 

According to a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the higher likelihood of diagnosis is linked to contaminated water that existed at the Marine Corps base for decades.   

Parkinson’s Risk Higher at Camp Lejeune 

JAMA’s study, published in May, examined Veterans Health Administration and Medicare data of more than 172,000 people assigned to Camp Lejeune between 1975 and 1985. That information was compared to nearly 170,000 people who were stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California during the same time period. 

The numbers revealed that 279 service members from Camp Lejeune were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or had similar symptoms compared to 151 at Camp Pendleton. The data showed that Camp Lejeune veterans were 70% more likely to develop the progressive neurological disorder. JAMA researchers said this recent discovery could have an impact on many others.

“It should be noted that in addition to the exposed service members studied here, hundreds of thousands of family members and civilian workers exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune may also be at increased risk of PD, cancers and other health consequences,” the study stated.

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Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water

Records show that the water at Camp Lejeune was tainted with several toxic cancer-causing chemicals, including perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene and benzene. The chemicals are used in a variety of products such as cleaning fluids, paint removers, adhesives, dyes and pesticides. 

Several sources are to blame for the contamination, including underground storage tanks, industrial spills near the camp and an off-base dry cleaning facility that failed to dispose of waste properly.

The contamination took place between 1953 and 1987. Contamination was suspected for several years, but water testing didn’t uncover the sources of the contamination until the early 1980s. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, as many as a million people may have been exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

Exposure Brings Other Health Issues

In addition to Parkinson’s disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the contamination at Camp Lejeune is to blame for several other cancers and health issues, including:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The contamination has also been linked to as many as 10,000 cases of birth defects, according to the CDC.

Camp Lejeune Justice Act

To clear a path for legal action by veterans and others affected by the water at Camp Lejeune, President Joe Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. As part of the broader Honoring Our Pact Act of 2022, the legislation is expected to help more than 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to hazards while serving in the military.

This legislation allows anyone harmed by four decades of contaminated water at the North Carolina Marine Corps base to file a lawsuit against the government. The bill also expands access to health care and disability benefits for any veteran whose health was impacted by toxic materials at Camp Lejeune or around the world.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers help for veterans dealing with a number of service-related health issues as well as disability benefits, compensation and resources.