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What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us
New Studies Show The Severe Impact Toxic Chemicals Have On Our Bodies
For Those Who Lived & Worked At Camp Lejeune
Another disease has been linked to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
In a population-based cohort study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that Marines and Navy sailors who served at Camp Lejeune between 1975 and 1985 were 70 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than those who served at Camp Pendleton* in California.
That’s because the water supply was contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
*It’s important to note that while Camp Pendleton’s water supply did not have high levels of TCE or other VOCs, the base recently found high levels of PFAS chemicals in the drinking water.
TCE is a colorless, nonflammable liquid solvent used in both industrial and household items to make hydrofluorocarbon chemicals. While this chemical’s name does not roll off the tongue, its widespread use in multiple industries means that most of us have likely been exposed to this environmental contaminant.
Starting in the early 1900s, it was used to remove grease and dirt from metal parts and was a favorite in the aircraft industry from the 1950s to 1980s. TCE was used as an industrial solvent in the rubber industry—in paints, varnishes, adhesives, and paint strippers—and to produce agricultural chemicals such as fungicides and insecticides. It was also used in the dry-cleaning industry and in spray fixatives for arts and crafts.
“From getting stains out of favorite shirts to baking cookies and everything in between, Whirlpool® appliances are there to help you keep the day moving,” reads the company’s website. For 45 years, the Whirlpool refrigeration production facility was based in Fort Smith, Arkansas and in 1967, they started using TCE as a degreaser.
The company discontinued its use in 1981, but in 2001 a plume of TCE had been found in the groundwater beyond its property and underneath homes in a nearby neighborhood. TCE is known to have a latency period of twenty years or more.
When I worked with this community, people reported brain tumors, throat cancers, and nasopharyngeal cancers, and these rare cancers always raise a red flag for me. The Fort Smith plant closed in June 2012, and the company has been working to clean up the contamination.
But this example highlights how most people get exposed to TCE—by consuming contaminated drinking water. The water is contaminated from some combination of industry discharge/spills and existing hazardous-waste sites. TCE breaks down slowly and can move through soil to find its way into drinking water sources.
TCE and its health effects made the cover of Newsweek in 2014 because it was one of the top pollutants at Camp Lejeune military base, which is considered one of the worst toxic sites in the U.S.
TCE was found in the drinking water of the 240-square-mile base as part of what was described as “a toxic cocktail of industrial solvents, dry-cleaning chemicals and gas.”
The recent findings suggest that exposure to TCE in water may increase the risk of Parkinson disease.
Researchers analyzed medical records for more than 340,000 troops, which were provided by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). They choose data for those who served between 1975 and 1985, when the water at Camp Lejeune was the most contaminated.
At that time the median levels of TCE in base water were more than 70-fold higher than considered safe by the federal government.
Other health problems associated with drinking water containing unsafe levels of TCE include liver issues and increased risk of cancer. In a toxicological review of TCE, the EPA found that it is “carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure” based on evidence of a causal association between TCE exposure and kidney cancer.
Both human and animal data show this chemical can affect the kidney, liver, immune system, male reproductive system, and a developing fetus, according to ATSDR, and it’s also associated with increased rates of childhood leukemia.
Millions of people in the U.S. and worldwide are exposed to TCE in air, food, and water. The recent study didn’t look at civilian data, which would include civilian employees that worked on the bae and military family members who also lived there.
I’m glad this information is out there, and it breaks my heart to know that disease rates are likely to rise in the coming years, as the latency period comes to pass.
In January 2023, the U.S. EPA released a final revised risk determination for trichloroethylene (TCE) as a whole chemical substance, which you can learn more about here.
For veterans who served at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, and their family members, you can apply for care and benefits at VA.gov/CampLejeune.
Struggling To Lose Weight? It Might Be The PFAS
Another new study published in April found another nasty side effect of PFAS, or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also called “forever chemicals,” a family of chemicals used to make everything from firefighting foam to nonstick products.
The new study published in the journal Obesity looked at how these toxic substances might contribute to weight loss relapse. We already know that PFAS exposure is widespread and has been linked to obesity in clinical studies.
But this new randomized dietary trial found that baseline PFAS concentrations found in the body were significantly associated with greater weight gain after an initial weight loss.
The research included 381 participants with obesity from eight European countries. All participants stayed on a specific diet for at least 26 weeks after initial weight loss.
Researchers tracked their post-diet results, after losing a minimum of 8 percent of their original weight from two months of dieting and tested their blood for PFAS. Those who gained the most weight back had the highest levels of PFAS chemicals, researchers found.
Participants baseline plasma PFAS concentrations were significantly associated with greater weight gain. Plus, the weight gain associated with elevated PFAS exposures exceeded the differences in weight gain linked to suboptimal study diets.
“The results suggest that PFOA and PFHxS may cause weight gain among people with obesity in weight loss programs,” the researchers concluded. “These pollutants deserve attention in public health efforts to control the obesity pandemic.”
The also noted that other human studies have linked elevated PFAS exposures to metabolic abnormalities, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, elevated serum lipids, and thyroid dysfunction.
So we now know that PFAS exposures adds to the risk of obesity. It’s not just about diet and exercise but we also have to contend with a myriad of toxic chemicals that hijack our hormones and make the body store and burn fat tissue differently than it normally would.
Contamination & Cancers in Young People
Our friend, Susan Wind is a mom and environmental advocate, who has been bringing attention to public health problems associated with toxic coal ash since her daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 16. You might remember our conversation with her back in 2021.
She has published a new piece about her ongoing investigation and struggle to expose the truth and we are sharing a portion of it with permission.
Doing the RIGHT thing is not always the EASY thing
In 2017–2018 I was knee-deep into an environmental investigation after my daughter and 4 neighbors had their thyroids cut out on a tiny street in Mooresville, NC (Lake Norman). It was painful watching my daughter try to finish her senior year of high school after radiation treatment.
People would stare at her huge scar still healing across her neck at football games and kids would feel awkward saying anything to her. Some of the high school administration made life hell for her, too. She was given permission to park close to the school for a few months while under-going treatment (due to being tired), but meanwhile she had a teacher and vice principal yell at her for doing so in front of others. To this day, we all try to forget that time.
While I was working on so many angles of this investigation, I received a message from a stranger one day—a dad.
He told me bluntly, “I think it’s more than thyroid cancer. My daughter went to the same school that yours is at, and she and her friends got leukemia the same year.”
This was a few years before my daughter went to the school. The dad proceeded to tell me that he went to the front office to pick up his daughter’s diploma because she was too ill to walk at graduation. The secretary at the front desk asked him why she would not be attending graduation.
He replied, “She has cancer, and she is very sick”.
Want to know how the secretary replied? “Not another one.”
Not another one.
This stuck with that dad, and it sticks with me every day.
More and more young adults and teens are receiving cancer diagnoses.
The types vary: multiple thyroid cancers, lymphomas, leukemia, lung, melanoma, testicular, endocrine, melanoma, breast, etc. I never went to medical school, but a medical license isn’t needed for what good old-fashioned common sense will tell us. The job of doctors is to diagnose and treat diseases … apparently not to be knowledgeable about contamination and cancers.
Keep reading her story here.
Share your stories in the comments below! Are you surprised to learn about more research showing how toxic chemicals impact your health?