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What Was in the Water at Camp Lejeune?

The water contamination scandal at Camp Lejeune has been in the news for a number of years, as veterans and their family members continue to suffer serious health consequences decades after their exposure. 

From 1953 to 1987, there was a massive unnoticed water contamination crisis at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, which likely sickened thousands of veterans and their family members. 

We’ll examine the history surrounding this crisis as well as what sorts of chemicals were present at Camp Lejeune, which led to the ability to file a Camp Lejeune lawsuit. 

History of the Investigation

During the 1970’s, a slew of new environmental regulations and laws came into effect in the United States. Landmark legislation, such as the Clean Water Act, as well as others regulating chemicals and how they are disposed of, led to mass testing of water sources throughout America. The United States Military was no exception to these regulations, as it owned and operated thousands of bases. Each base had to not only test its water sources, but also ensure that no hazardous chemicals entered the ground and well water. 

Starting in October 1980, Marine Corps chemists, along with independent laboratories, began examining the soil, ground, and well water around Camp Lejeune. Initially, their results turned up organic solvents used as part of an off-base dry cleaning business, as well as chemical solvents used in cleaning and maintaining machinery on the base. However, after the scientists reported their findings to the Marine Corps personnel responsible for water safety, no action was taken despite repeated warnings. Only after repeated testing and looming governmental and public outcry did ten of the wells finally get shut down in 1984 and 1985. 

Chemicals Found as Well as the Primary Culprit Chemical

The primary source of contamination was narrowed down to two water treatment plants and their wells, which were part of the eight wells and plants where the base received its water. The first was the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant, which was found to be contaminated with Perchloroethylene (PCE) and Tetrachloroethylene (TCE), two chemicals that came from waste disposal at a nearby off-base dry cleaning business. The second was the Hadnot Point water treatment plant, which was contaminated by TCE, PCE, TCE degradation products, benzene, and vinyl chloride. 

The primary culprit, however, was the chemical mentioned the least–benzene. The Hadnot Point water treatment plant supplied the water for the enlisted and officers living quarters, as well as the base hospital. Because of this, thousands of people were exposed to benzene levels far above the recommended limits set by the EPA every day.

This contamination remained present due to over 800,000 gallons of benzene that had leaked from tanks at a fuel storage farm close to the source from which Hadnot Point obtained its water supply. Although benzene was known as part of the tests carried out in the 1980s, it was denied as a primary source of disease. 

In 2009, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was forced to recant their prior findings from 1997 and admit that benzene was a major source of contamination at Camp Lejeune and that thousands of veterans and their families may have been affected. 

Problems Associated With Exposure to Benzene and Other Chemicals

Although these chemicals are extremely harmful, the difficulty of recognizing the associated problems stems from the fact that symptoms of water contamination in Camp Lejeune would take decades to appear. This is because many of these chemicals can contain cancer-causing carcinogens, and the cancer itself can take years to develop. That being said, here are some primary Camp Lejeune water contamination health issues:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

In summary, recent changes in legislation have opened the door to veterans and their family members to seek treatment and compensation for their illnesses that may have occurred while they lived at Camp Lejeune. Hopefully, this can finally bring some closure and healing to the victims and their families. 



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