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
- carbon tetrachloride
- trichloroethylene (TCE)
- perchloroethylene (PCE)
- 1,1- dichloroethane
- 1,2- dichloroethane
- methylene chloride
- polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
- vinyl chloride
- halogenated hydrocarbons
Many of these chemicals were later found to cause many other health problems, although not all of them were acknowledged as toxicants at 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 the United States were exposed 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. For example, 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 than the Marines stationed at other bases. In addition, 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 dumped into drains sewage waste laden with dangerous chemical solvents for years. 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. In addition, 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. Multiple myeloma must be diagnosed as early as possible to reduce the number of potential complications.