A simple test could have alerted officials that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated, long before authorities determined that as many as a million Marines and their families were exposed to a witch’s brew of cancer-causing chemicals.
But no one responsible for the lab at the base can recall that the procedure — mandated by the Navy — was ever conducted.
The U.S. Marine Corps maintains that the carbon chloroform extract (CCE) test would not have uncovered the carcinogens that fouled the southeastern North Carolina base’s water system from at least the mid-1950s until wells were capped in the mid-1980s. But experts say even this “relatively primitive” test — required by Navy health directives as early as 1963 — would have told officials that something was terribly wrong beneath Lejeune’s sandy soil.
A just-released study from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry cited a February 1985 level for trichloroethylene of 18,900 parts per billion in one well — nearly 4,000 times today’s maximum allowed limit of 5 ppb. Given those numbers, environmental engineer Marco Kaltofen said even a CCE test should have raised red flags with a “careful analyst.”