A new study has found that Marines stationed in Camp Lejeune have a 70% greater risk of Parkinson's than veterans serving at other posts across the country.
Researchers warn that the difference could have been due to the exposure of the Camp Lejeune veterans to a chemical called trichloroethylene, a ubiquitous environment contaminant. Researchers warn that the risk for developing this disorder may be greater for millions of people.
Parkinson's disease is on the rise in many countries. According to some estimates, nearly 20 millions people may have the disease by 2040.
Scientists don't know exactly what causes Parkinson's. Scientists believe that age is a major factor and that the growing prevalence of Parkinson's is partly due to the graying of the population. Some also believe that chemicals such as TCE are contributing to the growth.
Dr. Ray Dorsey is the David M. Levy Professor of Neurology at the University of Rochester. He believes TCE could be one of most important causes of Parkinson’s disease in the United States, particularly in suburban and urban areas.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, between 4.5% and 18.0% of drinking water sources tested annually by the EPA in the US have some TCE contamination.
Dorsey who has done similar research but was not involved with the new study, noted that Marines were only exposed to TCE a short time in this study.
He said that there could be many Marines who develop Parkinson's. "Almost everyone who reads your story probably lives near a TCE-contaminated site." This is a serious concern.
TCE, or a volatile organic colorless compound, was used widely in the industry as a cleaner and degreaser for metal. It is also used to make some refrigerants. You can find it in paints, sealants and coatings.
TCE was first synthesized in the 1864 but wasn't widely used in the 1920s. In the 1960s, scientists started to believe that it was dangerous to humans. However, some industrial applications still use TCE today.
The TCE is found in thousands water sources and properties all over the world because it has been used so extensively for the last 100 years. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chemical can remain in the groundwater for a long time and hang in the atmosphere.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized in January a revision of the Toxic Substances Control Act Risk Determination for TCE. It said that TCE presents an unreasonable health risk.
TCE is mainly found in groundwater. However, it can be breathed in by people who are exposed through the air or water.
According to the EPA, exposure can increase the risk of developing cancer, damage the liver, and affect the nervous system or brain.
The new study published in JAMA Neurology on Monday focused on the relationship between TCE, Parkinson's disease, and Parkinson's. The US Department of Veterans Affairs funded the study, but did not conduct or design the research.
Researchers examined the health records for 340,000 servicemembers stationed in North Carolina at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune from 1975 to 1985. At that time, the water was contaminated by TCE and other volatile compounds.
According to the study, tests showed that the levels of TCE in the water were 70 times higher than the allowed amount during the time period studied. The US government has been sued by thousands of people over TCE.
Researchers compared Camp Lejeune data with Camp Pendleton in California. The researchers then looked at the health records of the same veterans from January 1, 1997 until February 17, 2020 to see if any developed Parkinson's disease or other diseases.
Researchers found that veterans stationed in Camp Lejeune were 70% more likely to develop Parkinson's than those in Camp Pendleton.
Research had limitations. For example, exposure could vary depending on how often people used water at the base as well as where they lived and worked. The study also relies on claims data rather than a clinical diagnosis. Data is only collected from veterans who have seen a doctor via the VA or Medicare. Camp Pendleton was also contaminated with TCE, but at a much lower level.
The new research adds to a growing body scientific evidence that suggests a link between TCE and Parkinson's. Dorsey carried out a small twin study that showed that TCE exposure had been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease six-fold. A 2012 study also found that TCE exposure has been associated with a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease 500%. Studies on animals have also shown the same risk.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs issued a statement encouraging all Veterans and their families who served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 total days between August 1, 53, and December 31 1987 to apply at VA.gov/CampLejeune for the benefits and care they deserve.
"Parkinson's is a presumed condition for Veterans exposed to contaminated water in Camp Lejeune. When Veterans are eligible for benefits, VA will automatically assume that the service they performed caused their Parkinson's.
"Also, thanks to PACT Act, veterans and their families are now able to file lawsuits to recover damages for exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. You can find more information about this process here.
Dorsey said that the latest study provides solid evidence for the need to limit exposure to TCE in order to prevent Parkinson's disease. The editorial was published with this study in JAMA Neurology. TCE is banned in most countries of Western Europe, including New York, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.
Dorsey stated that it was time to ban the chemical, clean the contaminated areas, remediate the sites so people would not be exposed to the chemicals again, and notify those who live nearby. It's still allowed in many states and it's not right.