What is Camp Lejeune and what happened there? Camp Lejeune is a U.S. Marine Corps base camp located in North Carolina. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, those living or working at Camp Lejeune were potentially exposed to contaminated drinking water. It is believed the water contained benzene, Perchloroethylene (known as PCEs and found in industrial solvents), and other chemicals. PCEs are solvents most often used in dry cleaning, textile processing, metal cleaning, and other industrial processes. PCE is the contaminant that caused the most harm at Camp Lejeune.
The chemical was used by a nearby dry cleaner, then compounded by on-base sources that further contaminated the water. For three decades, more than a million Marines, their family members, and workers at the base drank and bathed in contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Since that time, thousands who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune have suffered severe illnesses and died. Strong scientific evidence exists that the chronic exposure to toxic chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune resulted in increased rates of cancer. Injuries to children in utero have also been well-documented.
How Did Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune Expose Marines, Their Families, and Civilian Contractors? There were two specific chemical compounds found to be contaminating the Camp Lejeune water supply between 1953 and 1987—PCE and Trichloroethylene (TCE). PCEs were the most significant source of the water contamination that ultimately led to injuries and death at Camp Lejeune. PCEs are absorbed orally, through inhalation, and through skin exposure. Once the body is exposed to PCE, the chemicals travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, targeting the central nervous system, the liver, and the kidneys. As PCE degrades in groundwater, it becomes TCE, trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE), and vinyl chloride. TCE crosses the placenta, causing serious birth defects.
PCE is known to cause kidney cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney and liver injuries, Parkinson’s Disease, and more. PCE levels for 346 months at the Tarawa Terrance water treatment and supply facility at Camp Lejeune were dangerously high. The EPA’s maximum “safe” level of PCE in drinking water is 5 ug/L, yet the maximum level detected in Camp Lejeune drinking water was 215 parts per billion (ug/L). The most highly contaminated wells were finally shut down in early 1985. Although Benzene was also detected in the Tarawa Terrace sampling of the Camp Lejeune drinking water, the levels were not nearly as high as those of PCE and TCE.
Cancers Caused by Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) mortality studies regarding the health impact of the Camp Lejeune drinking water examined health records from 200,000 former employees and Marine personnel living or working at the Camp during the period of contamination. These records were compared to those of a control group of people living and working at Camp Pendleton—a military base in California. Camp Pendleton was used because the demographics were very similar to those at Camp Lejeune. The study revealed a much higher mortality rate for those at Camp Lejeune due to different types of cancer.
It was found that “Tier 1” cancer types are those with the strongest, most compelling level of scientific evidence supporting the connection to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. “Tier 2” cancers could be linked to the contaminated water, but the scientific evidence is not as definitive. Tier 1 cancers include: breast cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bladder cancer, leukemia, and esophageal cancer. Tier 2 cancers include cervical cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, brain cancer, ovarian cancer, and aplastic anemia.
Kidney cancer appears to have the strongest link to the contaminated water with former residents and employees of Camp Lejeune having 2-3 times higher rates of bladder cancer as compared to the control group. Long-term residents of Camp Lejeune had a rate of kidney cancer death that was a shocking 41 times higher than the control group.
Not only do those who worked or lived at Camp Lejeune have a significantly increased risk of kidney cancer, but they also have an increased risk of chronic kidney diseases. The study further found that individuals with extensive exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water were at a significantly higher risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer. Unfortunately, prostate cancer can be more difficult to tie to the contaminated water because prostate cancer is so common and has been linked to so many different environmental factors.
The study found that nine out of the twelve Camp Lejeune study participants who died from leukemia were found to have high levels of exposure to the contaminated water. Leukemia has a lower 5-year survival rate than bladder and kidney cancer, which is one factor in projecting a higher per-person settlement amount. Leukemia has a much lower survival rate than prostate cancer and can more definitively be linked to the contaminated water. Increased levels of breast cancer have also been associated with the industrial solvents found in the water supply at Camp Lejeune.
Along with the mortality study, ATSDR is also conducting a Cancer Incidence Rate study to quantify how exposure to the contaminated water caused higher rates of several types of cancers. This study is expected to provide a much more accurate and comprehensive picture of the level of risk those who worked and lived at Camp Lejeune experienced.
What Does the EPA and the Federal Government Say About Camp Lejeune? As far back as the 1970s, the EPA called Camp Lejeune a “major polluter.” Although those in charge of the Camp claimed they disposed of waste according to common practices at the time, it was later discovered that oil and industrial wastewater were dumped into storm drains and potentially radioactive materials were buried.
The nearby drycleaning business dumped their chemical by-products down drains. While the EPA had not yet strongly regulated PCE and TCE solvent dangers were well-known. Once tighter environmental regulations were put into place, military chemists began testing the drinking water at Camp Lejeune in earnest in 1980, however, the Marines did not get the results of those tests until 1982.
Then, in 1982, Grainger Labs was hired to test Camp Lejeune’s water. The very first test found “synthetic organic cleaning solvents contaminating the water where thousands of Marines, their families, and employees of the base lived. Later that same year another Grainger report found that the raw water at a treatment plant was contaminated with solvents, meaning the wells themselves were contaminated.
It was not until 1984 that the wells were directly tested. In late 1984 and early 1985, ten wells were closed due to contamination. In August 2022, a new federal law known as the Camp Lejeune Justice Act gave those who suffered illnesses connected to the contaminated water the right to file a lawsuit against the government for their injuries.
Are There Legal Remedies for Those Exposed to Contaminated Water? If you or a loved one were exposed to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987, and developed a health condition as a result or died as a result, you may be eligible to file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit. It is important that you contact an experienced Camp Lejeune lawyer to discuss your legal options. Your Camp Lejeune attorney can also guide you through the process of filing a Camp Lejeune lawsuit.
If you or a family member were stationed at Camp Lejeune between the dates listed above for a minimum of 30 days and were subsequently diagnosed with any of the conditions outlined above, you may be entitled to file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit or wrongful death claim. The Camp Lejeune settlements will depend on the number of plaintiffs, although the total payout is estimated to be around $6.7 billion.
Further, under the 2012 Janey Ensminger Act, service members may receive Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits if they were stationed at Camp Lejeune between the dates listed above, and developed adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These are considered “presumptive conditions,” which means that if you have one of these conditions and were stationed at or worked at Camp Lejeune during the stated times, the VA must grant your claim. If you are eligible, you will receive monthly disability benefits and coverage for your related medical expenses.
Family members of veterans can receive free healthcare for the conditions listed above, as well as an additional 15 presumptive conditions under the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. Those conditions include: breast cancer, esophageal cancer, female infertility, hepatic steatosis, lung cancer, miscarriage, multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndrome, neurobehavioral effects, renal toxicity, and others.
In 1989, Camp Lejeune and ABC One Hour Cleaners (the drycleaning company responsible for much of the water contamination) were designated as Superfund sites. The Superfund site designation means the location is so polluted it requires a long-term response to clean up hazardous materials contamination. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 allows victims of the toxic water contamination to see compensation. It can be extremely beneficial for you to speak to a knowledgeable Camp Lejeune lawyer regarding Camp Lejeune lawsuits.