Marine Corps officials are searching for 10,000 former residents of on-base housing at Camp Lejeune, NC who may have been exposed to water contaminated with substances linked to birth defects and cancer in children.

Two volatile organic compounds, tetrachlorethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene, commonly used in dry cleaning as degreasers, were found in Camp Lejeune water systems that supplied on-base housing areas prior to 1985.

The substances, believed to have come from a dry cleaning business in the area, have been linked to birth defects and childhood illnesses such as leukemia. Although the substances were discovered in the base's water in 1982, wells which contained the substances were not shut down until early 1985. All drinking water at the military post is regularly tested and safe for drinking now.

Personnel from Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine base in the eastern US, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a public health service agency, have been working for the past year to survey past on-base housing residents. The groups are trying to determine if exposure to the contaminated drinking water may be related to health concerns in children born or conceived while the contaminated wells were in use.

The survey, begun in September 1999, is attempting to locate all parents of children born or conceived while the parents were living in housing on-base from 1968 to 1985.

Attempts to contact the parents have been made via direct mail, news releases, open houses, notices placed in military publications, and posted on military bases throughout the world. More than 6,500 former residents have been located, but many others still have not been found.

"The health and welfare of Marines and their families is very important to us," said Col. Mike Lehnert, head of the Marine Corps Facilities and Services Division. "We have Marine families with questions that cannot be answered unless the survey is completed, so it is very important to us that we do everything possible to help ATSDR reach as many of the former residents as we can."

He added, it is important for anyone who qualifies for the survey to be included, even if their children have not experienced health concerns.

The 35-question health survey is conducted by telephone and data may be used in a follow-up scientific research study about effects these substances have on children when exposed before birth.

To participate in the survey, parents are asked to call the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at 800-639-4270. For more information about the study, call ATSDR at 888-42-ATSDR, extension 5132.

The Marine Corps also has a toll-free number at 877-261-9782 and a Web site for general information.