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. Ingestion of this contaminated water has been linked to a variety of serious 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 medical 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 affects not only service 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 based upon available data.
ARE YOU ELIGIBLE FOR BENEFITS?
HISTORY OF CAMP LEJEUNE
Camp Lejeune was created in 1941 shortly before the United States entered World War II. The site 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 population. In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered water contamination in 2 of these 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 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 report. It 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 base hospital, obtained its drinking water. The water contamination has caused serious impacts on individuals who resided at the military base during the time of the Camp Lejeune contamination.
HEALTH IMPACTS OF WATER CONTAMINATION ON VETERANS AND OTHERS: 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.
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 at Camp Lejeune:
Causation for TCE
Causation for PCE
Causation for Benzene
Causation for Vinyl Chloride
This list of medical conditions is non-exhaustive. Other medical 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.
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 danger. The long term health effects of these chemicals, 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.
NATURE OF VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS FOUND IN THE CAMP LEJEUNE WATER CONTAMINATION
- Trichloroethylene (TCE): This is
- a 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
- 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 TOXIC 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. Yet complete relief and compensation benefits have evaded those affected by exposure.
The reason so many veterans were denied help and prevented from making legal claims 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 duty. They were instead required to file for compensation and benefits with the VA Administration.
However, many of the doctors who worked at the VA simply had very little experience dealing with these complicated cases of chemical exposure and lacked knowledge regarding their 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 after filing lawsuits, because according to the State of North Carolina, you cannot file lawsuits for injuries 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 – leaving thousands of families in legal limbo, unable to file legal claims.
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. 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. This legislation 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 medical costs incurred by Veterans with documented exposure and corresponding healthcare conditions from the contaminated water at base Camp Lejeune. This act fell short of fully compensating Camp Lejeune Veterans, civilians, contracts, and family members for their 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 legislation would be the removal of significant limitation periods that operated to prevent certain legal claims. 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 lawyers.