Marines, Dry Cleaners, Parkinson’s– What’s the Connection?

Marines, Dry Cleaners, Parkinson’s-- What’s the Connection?

The largest human exposure to trichlorethylene (TCA) in this nation’s history came from the drinking water at Camp Lejeune between 1956 and 1987. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2002 allows those who were harmed by TCA and other similar toxicants at the camp to seek compensation from the US government.

TCA was synthesized in 1864 and by the 1920’s came into widespread military, industrial and commercial use, including degreasing metal, decaffeinating coffee, and dry-cleaning clothes. It dissolves in fat, is soluble in water, and readily evaporates. At Camp Lejeune, ingestion was likely the main route of exposure, but TCA and other solvents readily evaporate from contaminated water and pollute the indoor air, a process termed vapor intrusion. Inhalation, which can bypass the liver and the blood-brain barrier, might be an even more potent route of exposure.

Unfortunately, Parkinson’s is just one of many conditions tied to TCE. Others include miscarriages, neural tube defects, congenital heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and countless cancers. A 2012 study demonstrated that occupational and hobby exposure to TCE led to a 500% increased risk of Parkinson’s. A new study found that marines who served at Camp Lejeune between 1975 and 1985 had a 70% higher risk of Parkinson’s despite an average exposure of only 25 months.

In the US, water is regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act (pray that the Supreme Court won’t strike it down), but indoor air is not and is rarely tested for TCE. Those of us living, working, and studying near current and former dry cleaners, computer chip manufacturers, and military sites have been and continue to be exposed.

Adapted from an Editorial by Dorsey et al in JAMA Neurology, July 2023.

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