With Europe engulfed in World War II, the United States military needed an amphibious training facility on the east coast. In 1941, Congress authorized funds for construction of the base. In 1942, the base was named Camp Lejeune in honor of World War I Major General John A. Lejeune.
Camp Lejeune covers more than 150,000 acres in North Carolina. It contains miles of beaches for training in amphibious operations. It’s the largest Marine Corps base on the east coast. Generations of service members trained and lived at Camp Lejeune. Over a million service members and their families may have consumed contaminated water at Camp Lejeune during the three decades its water was contaminated by highly toxic chemicals.
Many of those service members returned or moved to Alabama upon their discharge from the military. If you are a resident of Alabama who served or lived at Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987 and developed a life-threatening disease linked to contaminated water, the Blackwell Law Firm can help. Call or email us. We are happy to answer your questions. We’ve written this report to provide some basic information that can help you or a family member learn more about the issues. We also plan to write and post articles periodically on our law firm blog dedicated to accident and injury cases.
What Toxic Chemicals Were in The Water at Camp Lejeune?
For over three decades, the drinking water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). What are VOCs? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), volatile organic compounds are often industrial solvents, fuel oxygenates, or by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment. VOCs include several chemicals linked to severe health issues. These health issues include life-threatening cancers and neurological problems. For decades, military families at Camp Lejeune drank dangerous injury-causing water.
What specific toxic chemicals were discovered in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune? Water samples at Camp Lejeune contained toxic volatile organic compounds, including the following:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE): Trichloroethylene does not occur naturally. It is a man-made chemical used as a refrigerant and also as a degreaser for heavy machinery. Information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that TCE is a known carcinogen. Information published by the EPA references epidemiological studies associating exposure with multiple cancers including kidney, liver, cervix and lymphoma.
- Tetrachloroethylene (Known as Perchloroethylene or PCE): This chemical is also primarily used in industrial settings. It is also used for dry-cleaning fabrics and as a brake cleaner. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) previously published guidelines to help reduce the risk of exposure to PCE by workers in dry cleaning shops. Work-related exposures and injuries in the dry cleaning industry have been a major health concern.
- Vinyl Chloride: Vinyl chloride is used in the manufacture of certain plastic products, primarily polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is then used in several products including pipes, wire coatings, packaging materials and car upholstery. This chemical has also been associated with numerous types of cancer.
- Benzene: Benzene is used for multiple products. It is primarily used as a component for petroleum fuels like gasoline. Benzene contamination has been a major issue with leaking underground fuel tanks in Alabama and across the United States. Benzene is also used to make plastics, resins, and some other synthetic fibers.
While these four volatile organic compounds were primary contaminants at Camp Lejeune, they were not the only dangerous chemicals. More than 70 highly toxic substances were detected in the water at the base.
When Was Toxic Water Discovered at Camp Lejeune?
Due to new safety standards, the military began testing water at Camp Lejeune in 1982. This was when the Marine Corps discovered volatile organic compounds in the drinking water supplied by two water treatment plants on the base. By 1985, the contaminated water wells supplying these two treatment plants were shut down.
Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant
The Tarawa Terrace plant operated from 1952 until it was shut down in 1987. This plant provided water to Tarawa Terrace housing and the Knox trailer park on the base.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) estimates “PCE concentrations exceeded the current EPA maximum contaminant level of 5 ppb in drinking water from the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant for 346 months during November 1957-February 1987.” A test in 1985 found PCE contaminant levels had reached 215 parts per billion (ppb), far in excess of the current maximum of 5 ppb. That’s 43 times the current maximum limit. The contamination at the Tarawa plant occurred as a result of waste disposal from an off-base dry cleaning firm.
Hadnot Point Treatment Plant
The Hadnot Point plant began operating in 1942. It served as the primary supplier of water to the barracks as well as the family housing at Hospital Point, Midway Park and Paradise Point. The water at this plant was contaminated primarily by TCE. However, PCE, benzene and vinyl chloride were all discovered in the water. It is believed the toxins came from multiple sources, including underground storage tanks, industrial spills, and waste disposal sites. A test in the early 1980s found TCE concentrations as high as 1,400 ppb (the current limits is 5 ppb). That’s a level 280 times higher than current EPA limits.
Sources of Water Contamination
What were the sources of the water contamination at the base? It is believed the sources included:
- Leakage from underground storage tanks
- Contamination from waste disposal sites on the base
- Leakage of chemicals used for degreasing base machinery
- Solvents from a nearby dry-cleaning company
All these sources likely contaminated the base’s drinking water. This contamination put generations of military families at risk for serious personal injury.
How Does The Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune Harm Marines and Their Families?
Several years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a list of injuries presumptively related to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. This list was used to provide separate VA benefits to service members. Again, VA benefits are separate from the compensation now available under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. But, these presumptive injuries show us how strongly the scientific research connects the exposures at the base to specific cancers. Those eight presumptive diseases include:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
Medical research continues to link numerous health issues to the toxic chemicals in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water. The list of potentially related injuries and diseases includes:
- Adult Acute Myeloid Leukemia
- Birth Defects
- Bladder Cancer
- Brain Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Central Nervous System Cancer
- Cervical Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Miscarriage / Female Infertility
- Multiple Myeloma
- Neurobehavioral Effects (Such as tremors and motor issues)
- Ovarian Cancer
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Renal Toxicity
Millions of retired veterans and their family members may have suffered personal injury from Camp Lejeune’s toxic water. For over 30 years, members of the military, their spouses, and their young children, were all exposed to toxic drinking water. The above-list may not fully identify all health problems caused by the exposure. If you have questions about a specific injury, let us know.
Is The Water at Camp Lejeune Safe Now?
This is an important question. The men and women who serve in our armed forces deserve safe training and housing facilities for themselves and their families. Military families sacrifice so much for us. In return, our nation should care for them.
According to the U.S. Marine Corps, the drinking water at Camp Lejeune has been safe since 1987. The drinking water on-base is now tested quarterly for the presence of volatile organic compounds. The base also publishes an annual report to all base residents on the quality of their drinking water.
Can I File a Claim for Compensation As A Result of My Injuries?
Yes. You can now file a claim for compensation if injured due to toxic water exposure at Camp Lejeune. For years, military families suffered without justice. However, a new law promises help.
On August 10, 2022, President Biden signed the Honoring Our Pact Act of 2022. This law includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act allowing claims for victims of toxic water contamination at the base.
Anyone who served, lived, or worked at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987 and suffered injuries or death from exposure to contaminated water may bring a claim within two years of August 10, 2022. That means injured individuals and family members must file a lawsuit by August 10, 2024. Although you now have time, you should act quickly.
For years, the government hid the full extent of the problem. In the past, people injured by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune were denied the ability to file claims due to the statute of limitations. By the time victims suffered cancer, it was too late. The new law is a big step toward justice by giving injured people time to file their claims.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer to File a Claim.
If you or a family member suffered a serious personal injury, contact an experienced lawyer. Contact an attorney who prepares serious medical and injury issues. A lawyer experienced in these claims can provide advice into the compensation available, can prepare your claim and can build the medical information.
While Camp Lejeune is in North Carolina, the impact will be nationwide. Former service members and their families live in every state, including Alabama. Many areas of Alabama have large numbers of retired Marines. If you have suffered cancer or another serious medical injury, you need an attorney who can work with the doctors here in Alabama who treated you. Your medical evidence will be key to the claim.
What else can you do? Obtain a copy of your service record. You will need to show the court that you served or lived at Camp Lejeune during the period of water contamination. You should also begin obtaining copies of available medical records. You may have suffered exposure-related health problems for years. If so, it’s important to begin the process of obtaining your records. We can help with that. Give us a call. We are happy to answer your questions.