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Polluted Water at U.S. Marine Base Tied to Birth Defects

Children born more than 20 years ago at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina whose mothers were exposed to contaminated drinking water had an elevated risk of certain birth defects.

Children whose mothers drank the water contaminated by waste from a dry cleaner were as much as four times more likely than normal to suffer brain or spinal cord defects, mainly spina bifida, which typically occurs in the first month of conception, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report published Dec. 4 in the journal Environmental Health.

The CDC surveyed the parents of 12,598 children who were born on the base from 1968 to 1985, when the contaminated drinking water wells were closed. Parents of 9,547 children participated. The agency confirmed 15 spinal defects and 29 childhood cancers. The study found children exposed in the first trimester were 1.6 times more likely to have childhood cancer than typically found in the population.

Researchers based their finding on interviews with parents in 1999-2002 and modeling to reconstruct exposure before 1987 to the chemicals in the base’s drinking wells, the agency said.

The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry has been assessing the effects of exposure to drinking water containing volatile organic compounds since 1993, according to its website.

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