Perchloroethylene (also known as tetrachloroethylene or PCE) is one of the VOCs found in the drinking water in the Marine Base Camp Lejeune water supply. PCE is a non-flammable colorless liquid that has a faint sweet smell. This chemical is widely used as a dry cleaning solvent and metal degreaser. It has also been used for vapor degreasing heavy metal machinery on military bases across the United States. Improper disposal of PCE leads to groundwater contamination.
At Camp Lejeune, PCE seeped into the groundwater near the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant and contaminated the drinking water. PCE was traced to on-base vehicle maintenance and two dry cleaning operations: one on base and one off base. PCE was found primarily at the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) found that the major source of contamination at the Tarawa Terrace plant was ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning business. ATSDR’s investigation also found that officials at Camp Lejeune knew about the disposal of chemical waste at an on-base dump site.
While the exact exposure rate and PCE concentration levels in the water supply are unknown, ATSDR has conducted water modeling to resemble the estimated levels of toxins in the water. ATSDR’s modeling found that PCE concentration levels exceeded regulated maximum contaminant levels by over 10 times in October 1957 and concentration levels remained above the maximum contaminant levels until the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was closed in 1987.
People are exposed to PCE through inhalation of vaporized PCE and using PCE-contaminated water. Studies have shown that exposure to PCE can cause neurological problems, liver damage, kidney damage, immune and hematologic effects, and harm human development and reproduction. It is also linked to several types of cancer such as lung cancer, bladder cancer, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Due to its adverse effects on people, PCE use has decreased over the past 40 years. Unfortunately for those who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s to the 1980s, they may have unknowingly been exposed to this hazardous chemical simply by using contaminated water to shower, bathe, or perform other daily activities. Drinking or preparing food with the contaminated water exposed countless people to this dangerous chemical.
To learn more about the toxic chemicals found at Camp Lejeune, please visit our information page or call our office at 800-800-1102.