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 witchâ€™s brew of cancer-causing chemicals.
But no one responsible for the lab at the base can recall that the procedure â€” mandated by the Navy â€” 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 baseâ€™s water system from at least the mid-1950s until wells were capped in the mid-1980s. But experts say even this â€śrelatively primitiveâ€ť test â€” required by Navy health directives as early as 1963 â€” would have told officials that something was terribly wrong beneath Lejeuneâ€™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 â€” nearly 4,000 times todayâ€™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 â€ścareful analyst.â€ť