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Fort Detrick Health Studies Inconclusive

by Britt E. Erickson
March 12, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 11

Two government studies on health effects associated with exposure to groundwater contaminated by a waste pit at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md., are inconclusive, according to a report from the National Research Council. Moreover, additional studies are unlikely to establish a clear link between the polluted groundwater and health effects because of a lack of groundwater measurements before 1992, the report concludes. The Army used the Fort Detrick waste site beginning in the mid-1950s to bury biological materials, radiological tracers, and organic solvents, including perchloroethylene (perc) and trichloroethylene (TCE). The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry concluded in 2009 that exposure to perc and TCE from the contaminated drinking water wells was “unlikely to produce any harmful health effects, including cancer.” That conclusion should have found “groundwater posed an indeterminate public health hazard,” because critical exposure information is lacking, the NRC report states. The report also evaluates a cancer-cluster investigation performed by the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene and the Frederick County Health Department. NRC supports the agencies’ plans to further analyze data that suggest a higher incidence of lymphoma in communities near Fort Detrick than in other parts of the state.


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