CAMP LEJEUNE WATER CONTAMINATION LAWSUIT AND TOXIC WATER EXPOSURE
If you were stationed at Camp Lejeune for thirty consecutive days between August 1953 through December 1987, the United States, through the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs, recognizes you may have been exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals. Camp Lejeune’s contaminated and toxic water had serious health consequences for individuals stationed at the base.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Health Impacts
Drinking this contaminated water has been linked to a variety of serious personal health conditions, including:
- Adult leukemia;
- Aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes;
- Bladder cancer;
- Kidney cancer;
- Liver cancer;
- Multiple myeloma;
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; and
- Parkinson’s disease.
There may also be other less-common diseases and health conditions linked to toxic exposure from the tainted water supply at Camp Lejeune during this same timeframe, including breast cancer, esophageal cancer, female infertility, heapatic steatosis, kidney cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, miscarriage, multiple myeloma, neurobehavioral effects, renal toxicity, and scleroderma.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has recognized that exposure to the contaminated water affects not only military men and women but also their family members, contractors, and civilian employees and personnel who were similarly stationed at the military base. Studies performed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (“ATSDR”) have created models to ascertain the full reach of the contamination of the water based upon available data from the camp.
New Camp Lejeune Justice Act Allows Veterans to File Lawsuits for Contaminated and Toxic Water
On August 10, 2022, the U.S. President, Joe Biden, signed into law the full Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022, making it possible for veterans and their family members affected by contaminated water at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to file a lawsuit against the US federal government. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which revolves around the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, is part of the comprehensive Pact Act, whose main objective is to improve access to health care and disability benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances around the world.
For a long time, veterans affected by this contamination and their families were unable to file any Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit against the federal government due to the opaqueness of the existing legislation. But with this Camp Lejeune Justice Act, survivors of Camp Lejeune water contamination now have the critical support they’ve been waiting for to access proper health care and the long-awaited disability benefits. The Act prevents the federal government from asserting any claim to immunity when facing health care or disability lawsuits involving victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination.
How the Camp Lejeune Justice Legislation Came About to Help People Impacted by the Contaminated and Toxic Water
Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was introduced by North Carolina Senator, Thom Tillis, in November 2021 as part of the efforts by different organizations to deliver justice for the veterans affected by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The legislation was drafted by a team of legislators, victims, and attorneys Jerry Ensminger and Mike Partain, who were brought together by Ed Bell – the founder of Bell Legal Group – for the sole purpose of providing Camp Lejeune victims with a fair legislative solution and the ability to file a lawsuit.
Also on the team were the former Federal Judge and Congressman, John Napier, and retired U.S. Magistrate Judge George Kosko. Once the team was done formulating the Camp Lejeune legislation, it handed it over to Tillis, who brought it to the Senate for approval. The main aim of the Act is to correct the unjust legal barriers that Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune and their families have been facing when filing claims against the federal government for the injuries suffered due to the exposure to contaminated water at the camp.
Victims of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Can Now File a Lawsuit
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act enables the victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination to bring lawsuits before the district court of the Eastern District of North Carolina for damages caused by the exposure to CLCW. The act is part of the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which is expected to address health care, the presumption of service connection, research, resources, and other issues affecting veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances during their military service.
The U.S. President signed the bill into law after the House of Representatives and the Senate approved it. In the House, the bill was passed by 256 Reps, while 84 senators approved it in the Senate. This legislation offers more than just compensation for Camp Lejeune victims. It provides various benefits that weren’t available for veterans in the past. For instance, it provided veterans with eligibility for VA’s medical care, including mental treatment and counseling services.
HISTORY OF CAMP LEJEUNE CONTAMINATED WATER
Camp Lejeune was created in 1941 as a military base shortly before the United States entered World War II. The base was named after Lt. General John Archer Lejeune, who served in the marines for over 40 years. Camp Lejeune was founded as a training station for Marine Expeditionary Forces, and during its prolific life, which continues to this day, has housed millions of people from military members and personnel to their family members and civilians working on base.
CAMP LEJEUNE WATER CONTAMINANTS
From 1953 through 1982, 8 plants treated the water serving the Camp Lejeune military base population. In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered water contamination in 2 of these water treatment plants. Specifically, the Marine Corps determined that water from the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was contaminated by Perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene (“PCE”) resulting from waste disposal practices at ABC One-hour Cleaners, a nearby off-base dry-cleaning establishment. The Marine Corps further found this contamination affected the Tarawa Terrace plant for 346 months from November 1957 through February 1987.
Meanwhile, water from the Hadnot Point water treatment plant was contaminated by Trichloroethylene (“TCE”), PCE, TCE degradation products, benzene, and vinyl chloride. This water contamination was from a variety of sources including leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites. The Marine Corps found at least one of these chemicals exceeded EPA allowable amounts from 1953 until 1985.
By 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was called to investigate the water and found that cancerous effects from the contaminated water were unlikely; however, they failed to examine what has been labeled the primary culprit of the cancers: benzene.
Finally, in 2009, the ATSDR admitted that there was indeed benzene contamination and withdrew their 1997 water safety report. The water contamination report stated that over 800,000 gallons of fuel had leaked into the soil from fuel storage tanks. In a terrible coincidence, these fuel tanks were very close to the well from which the military officer and enlisted personnel quarters, as well as the military base hospital, obtained its drinking water. The water contamination has caused serious personal impacts on victims who resided at the military base during the time of the Camp Lejeune contamination.
HEALTH IMPACTS OF WATER CONTAMINATION ON VETERANS AND OTHERS AT CAMP LEJEUNE: PCE, TCE, BENZENE, AND VINYL CHLORIDE
The chemicals found in the Camp Lejeune water are known as Volatile Organic Compounds (“VOCs”). These compounds are often human-made chemicals used in industrial processes and can be components of fuels, paint thinners, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, building materials, and dry-cleaning agents that can cause serious injuries and medical conditions. These chemicals caused serious health impacts and Camp Lejeune’s water contamination.
According to the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there is sufficient evidence for causation linking the following health and medical outcomes to occupational or environmental exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune:
TCE Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
PCE Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
Benzene Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
Vinyl Chloride Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
This list of health conditions is non-exhaustive. Other medical health conditions may also have a causal connection with environmental or occupational exposure to water contamination at Camp Lejeune. In fact, an extensive list of potential adverse health effects exists thought to arise from exposure to these particular compounds that were found in the water at the Camp Lejeune base.
Due to the nature of these toxic chemicals in the body, civilians and service members stationed at the base may not have realized they were in potential danger when they were drinking the water. The long term health effects of these chemicals in the water, similar to those experienced by cigarette smokers, can take decades to appear as illness in the body – often when it is far too late to reverse the medical effects and damage. US law also prevented victims from filing a water contamination lawsuit to receive compensation for their personal health problems that resulted from the contaminated water.
NATURE OF VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS FOUND IN THE CAMP LEJEUNE WATER CONTAMINATION
There were a variety of chemicals found in the water contamination at the Camp Lejeune military base.
- Trichloroethylene (TCE): This is human-made VOC used primarily in refrigerants and as a degreasing agent. Commercial dry-cleaners also use TCE as a spot cleaner. Prolonged exposure to TCE is confirmed to cause or increase the likelihood of certain kinds of cancer.
- Perchloroethylene/Tetrachloroethylene (PCE): This is a human-made substance also used in dry-cleaning and metal degreasing. PCE is a likely human carcinogen through direct routes of exposure, such as drinking water.
- Benzene: This is a naturally occurring and man-made chemical and a known human carcinogen. The substance is one of the most used in the United States, in the process of making other chemicals, and in the production of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents drugs, and pesticides.
- Vinyl Chloride: This man-made chemical is used in the manufacture of PVC and plastic coatings. It is associated with an increased risk of liver cancer, brain and lung cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia.
THE FUTURE OF RELIEF FOR THOSE IMPACTED BY CONTAMINATED WATER EXPOSURE AT CAMP LEJEUNE
For years, the United States government has known and acknowledged that as many as one million service members, their families, contractors, and civilians and personnel on base at Camp Lejeune may have been exposed to these toxic compounds that were found in the drinking water. Yet complete relief and compensation benefits have evaded those affected by exposure due to the laws regarding victims’ abilities to a Camp Lejeune water lawsuit.
The reason so many veterans were denied help and prevented from filing a lawsuit is because of the Feres Doctrine. This legal decision was laid out in 1950 in the Supreme Court case Feres versus United States. It stated that United States Military members and veterans could not file a lawsuit against the government for injuries sustained while on active military duty. They were instead required to file a lawsuit for compensation and benefits with the VA Administration.
However, many of the doctors and health care providers who worked at the VA simply had very little experience dealing with these complicated cases of chemical exposure and lacked knowledge regarding their health effects. In some cases, doctors may have received just four hours of training regarding the effects of exposure to the contaminants and had no experience with water contamination cases.
Additionally, many service members have also been denied claims and benefits after filing lawsuits, because according to the State of North Carolina, you cannot file lawsuits for injuries or accidents that happened more than 10 years in the past. In reality, exposure to these chemicals resulted in bodily damage and cancers that took decades to develop, and by the time the service members and civilian contractors realized they were sick, it was far beyond the 10 year period to file lawsuits for contamination at Camp Lejeune – leaving thousands of families in legal limbo, unable to file a legal lawsuit and receive proper benefits.
In 2012, Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Act and the Janey Ensminger Act. These acts authorized free healthcare at VA hospitals for service members, along with their families and children, who may have been affected not only by direct exposure, but also for children who were in the womb at the time of exposure to the Camp Lejeune toxic chemicals and contaminated water. However, these two congressional acts did not provide compensation to the victims or grant military veterans the ability to file lawsuits against the Camp Lejeune water contamination.
RECENT LEGAL EFFORTS TO PROVIDE BENEFITS FOR INDIVIDUALS IMPACTED BY THE CAMP LEJEUNE WATER CONTAMINATION
In March 2022, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act passed the House with bipartisan support. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is intended to widely expand the 2012 Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act. The previous legislation authorized coverage for the out-of-pocket health care costs incurred by Veterans with documented exposure and corresponding healthcare conditions from the contaminated water at base Camp Lejeune. This Lejeune Justice Act fell short of fully compensating Camp Lejeune Veterans, civilians, contracts, and family members for their injuries and losses.
The 2022 Camp Lejeune Justice Act is intended to cover all types of compensatory damages, including permanent injury, emotional losses, loss of consortium, disability, and wrongful death. The co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) called this a “national issue,” and stated: “Anybody who served in the United States Marine Corps and went for combat training probably went to Camp Lejeune North Carolina[.]” Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC), another co-sponsor of the bill echoed Cartwright’s sentiments, saying: “This much-needed legislation eliminates red tape and gives our veterans, their dependents, contractors, and civil servants, who were exposed to toxic chemicals in drinking water at Camp Lejeune their day in court…[w]e owe it to these Marine families, civil servants, and contractors to seek justice and ensure they receive the benefits and healthcare they deserve.”
One of the most important provisions of the new gov legislation would be the removal of significant limitation periods that operated to prevent certain lawsuits. To support the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, contact your state Senators today, and, for more information on what benefits you may be eligible to receive because of exposure to toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune, contact our law firm today to speak with qualified Camp Lejeune attorneys.