Contaminated water in North Carolina has been linked to a higher risk of Parkinson's in a new study of over 300,000 veterans

A picture of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina on October 28, 2017.
The study looked at the risk of Parkinson disease in over 300,000 veterans.Fred Marie/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images
  • A new study found a connection between contaminated water at a military base and Parkinson's disease.

  • The risk of Parkinson's was 70% higher for over 300,000 veterans from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

  • The risk likely came from exposure to trichloroethylene from the early 1950s to the mid '80s.

A new study of over 300,000 veterans found a strong connection between contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and a higher risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

The research, published Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology, concluded that the risk of Parkinson's was 70% higher in Camp Lejeune veterans than others stationed at a different Marine Corps base on the opposite side of the country in California.

The study included over 300,000 service members. Those stationed at Camp Lejeune were there for at least three months between 1975 and 1985.

Even veterans who were not diagnosed with Parkinson's disease still had "significantly higher" risk for early signs and symptoms of the illness, the researchers reported in the study.

Harmful chemicals in the drinking water

The study's researchers link the increased risk of Parkinson's with exposure to trichloroethylene, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a colorless cleaning chemical with a chloroform-like odor.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes that the chemical was first discovered in Camp Lejeune's drinking water — specifically water from the Hadnot Point treatment plant — in 1982.

Other harmful chemicals including PCE, benzene, trans-1,2-DCE (t-1,2-dichloroethylene), and vinyl chloride were also found in the water. The ATSDR reported that the contaminants leached into the drinking water system via "leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites."

Both Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have previously acknowledged the exposure of trichloroethylene at Camp Lejeune.

While reports of the camp's water contamination have existed for decades and resulted in lawsuits and damages, the PACT Act of 2022 specifically addresses Camp Lejeune veterans who may have been exposed to chemicals.

The VA also offers disability and healthcare benefits for service members who were stationed at the base between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.

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