By Kelly Twedell

FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Water pollution at the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina has been linked to increased risk of birth defects and childhood cancers, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study released by the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substance & Disease Registry on Thursday confirmed a long-suspected link between chemical contaminants in tap water at the Marine Corps base and serious birth defects such as spina bifida

It also showed a slightly elevated risk of childhood cancers including leukemia.

Dr. Vikas Kapil, a medical officer and acting deputy director of the CDC agency that produced the study, said it surveyed the parents of 12,598 children born at Lejeune between 1968 and 1985, the year most contaminated drinking water wells at Camp Lejeune were closed.

From that same group of participants, 106 cases of birth defects and childhood cancers were reported. But Kapil said researchers could only confirm the diagnoses in 52 cases.

Computerized birth certificates first became available in 1968. The study's authors said they could not prove exposure to the chemicals caused specific individuals to become ill.

The CDC has linked the contamination to a number of sources including leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills, and an off-base dry cleaning firm.

Lejeune spokeswoman Captain Maureen Krebs said the Marine Corps has supported scientific and public health organizations studying the health impacts of the contamination.

"These results provide additional information in support of ongoing efforts to provide comprehensive science-based answers to the health questions that have been raised," Krebs said in a statement.

"The Marine Corps continues to support these initiatives and we are working diligently to identify and notify individuals who, in the past, may have been exposed to the chemicals in drinking water."

The Veterans Administration has already been providing disability compensation claims to the affected families and personnel exposed to the contaminated water.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Bob Burgdorfer)

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