Drinking water systems that supplied two areas of housing at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, U.S., were contaminated with industrial chemicals from at least 1953 to 1985. The contaminated wells were shut down in February 1985.

In 2014, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)—a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—published their “Birth Defects and Childhood Cancer Study,” showing the link between the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and birth defects.

The ATSDR suggested a clear correlation between the level of prenatal exposure to the contaminated water and birth defect rates. Their study assessed data of 12,598 children born between 1968 and 1985, who had in utero exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

The Camp Lejeune babies in the study were four times more likely to have neural tube birth defects—the most being spina bifida and anencephaly—compared with the control group. Oral cleft defects were also present at a similarly high rate.

For cardiac birth defects, very short durations of prenatal exposure could be sufficient if the exposure occurred during the relevant vulnerability period for cardiac defects (3–9 months gestation). In utero exposures have also been associated with increased risk of childhood leukemia.

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