Multiple myeloma due to toxic exposure on military bases

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on August 10th, 2020

The chemicals identified at hundreds of military installations pose an unacceptable risk to human health. For example, exposure to PFAS-based firefighting foams can be extremely toxic and cause various cancers, including multiple myeloma - plasma, cancer of white blood cells known as plasma cells in the bone marrow.

According to recent studies, the following pollutants identified at contaminated military sites likely increased the risk of multiple myeloma in veterans and families exposed:

  • per-and polyfluorinated substances
  • acetone
  • benzene
  • 2-butanone
  • carbon tetrachloride
  • trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • perchloroethylene (PCE)
  • chlordane
  • 1,1- dichloroethane
  • 1,2- dichloroethane
  • methylene chloride
  • polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • tetrachloroethylene
  • toluene
  • trichloroethylene
  • vinyl chloride
  • halogenated hydrocarbons
  • trihalomethanes
  • xylene

Many of these chemicals were later found to cause many other health problems, although not all of them were acknowledged as toxicants at the time of contamination.

Sick veterans point to the health-hazardous contaminants that can be found on military bases

Thousands of service members and their families stationed at the military bases spanning across the United States were subjected to exposure to harmful chemicals. For example, the Marine Corps Base in Lejeune, NC, was heavily contaminated with toxic agents from multiple sources, such as leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and leaking from a toxic waste dump.

There is suggestive evidence showing a connection between this contamination and several conditions, including multiple myeloma. A report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the effects of the contaminants found that Lejeune Marines had a 68 percent higher risk of multiple myeloma compared to the Marines stationed at other bases. In the 1970s, the EPA cited Camp Lejeune as "a major polluter", particularly for dumping oil, industrial waste, potentially radioactive materials, and other toxic substances into the storm drain.

One significant source of contamination was a nearby dry-cleaning business that for years dumped into drains sewage waste laden with dangerous chemical solvents. Those included tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, a suspected carcinogen. PCE, which has multiple industrial uses, was also used widely by Marines on base to clean machinery parts and equipment.

The practices continued until the end of the 1980s when the military instituted regulations for properly disposing of hazardous materials. By then, however, more than 1.1 million gallons of benzene-containing fuel stored in leaking underground storage tanks had seeped into the soil and adverse health consequences that came from consuming that toxic cocktail started to appear. Studies have shown that multiple myeloma is strongly associated with exposure to benzene and products containing benzene.

Exposure to benzene - a causal factor for multiple myeloma

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have determined that benzene is carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence that benzene causes certain cancers, including multiple myeloma. Chlorinated solvents like perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene are also tied to an increased risk of developing multiple myeloma.

The major effects of long-term exposure to benzene are on the blood and blood-forming tissues:

  • Depletion of cells in the bone marrow
  • Bone demineralization
  • Alterations of red cell function
  • A low white blood cell count
  • Damage to the immune system

Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer that affects plasma cells, one of the main types of white blood cells that are part of the immune system. It is important that multiple myeloma is diagnosed as early as possible to reduce the number of potential complications.

In addition to Camp Lejeune, there are many other military bases & installations with high levels of hazardous chemicals, including:

You may be entitled to VA benefits due to toxic exposure that leads to multiple myeloma

If you lived and/or worked on military installations contaminated with toxic chemicals and experience symptoms such as pain in your bones, frequent infections, swelling of the extremities, persistent or worsening tiredness, we strongly advise you to seek medical attention immediately, as you may have developed multiple myeloma as a consequence of exposure to different types of contaminants while serving on active duty.

If you have qualifying service at one of the above-mentioned military bases and a current diagnosis of multiple myeloma, you are entitled to financial compensation, which we can help you recover.