Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Marine Corps Base – Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Camp Lejeune is a military training facility that began operation in 1942. The original 110,000-acre land purchase was quickly expanded to include surrounding forests and 11 miles of beach and grew into the 156,000 acres covering 244 square miles that we know today. The training facility has been home to  active-duty members, their families, retirees, and other civilians for over 80 years. Its current population is almost 150,000 and generates close to $3 billion in commerce annually. 

In 1982, the Marine Corp discovered that three of their eight water distribution systems tested positive for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  These VOCs included trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, benzene, and other contaminants. Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard were the three water-distribution plants that tested positive for VOCs. These VOCs contaminated the soil, air, and groundwater at the military base. Unbeknownst to its active-duty members and residents, the drinking water used for consumption and washing was toxic, and many people developed certain cancers and other life-altering illnesses as a direct result of exposure. Those who resided at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1953 and December 1987 may be entitled to compensation.

 

Three Water-Distribution Plants

Hadnot Point
Hadnot Point distribution plant was established the year Camp Lejeune opened (1942) and served the family housing units for Hospital Point and the housing units located at Midway Park, Paradise Point, and Berkeley Manor. It also served the main side barracks, which houses the military personnel. In May 1982, TCE was detected in the drinking water, along with other contaminants: PCE, trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene.  According to the EPA, the acceptable exposure limit for TCE is 5 parts per billion (ppb). Levels of TCE found in 1982 were 1,400 ppb. Despite these findings, the wells remained in operation for the next few years and were not shut down until February 1985. Multiple sources of contamination were reported, including waste disposal, and leaking underground storage tanks. Later research determined that contaminants in the drinking water exceeded the EPA’s standards from August 1953 to January 1985.

Tarawa Terrace
Water-distribution plant Tarawa Terrace began operating in 1952, serving the Tarawa family housing unit and the Knox Trailer park. In February 1985, 215 ppb of PCE was detected in the drinking water- nearly 40 times over the maximum exposure limit. Waste disposal from ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry-cleaning company, was found responsible for contaminating the water. Research from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry estimates that the water contained high levels of contaminants for nearly 30 years, from November 1957 to February 1987. Tarawa Terrace was shut down in March 1987.

Holcomb Boulevard
Holcomb Boulevard plant began operation in 1972 and served the Tarawa Terrace family housing in March 1987 after Tarawa Terrace was shut down. In addition to Tarawa Terrace family housing, Holcomb Boulevard also served the same family housing units as Hadnot Point, with the addition of Watkins Village. For a week in late January/early February 1985, Holcomb Boulevard was not operating. During that time, water from Hadnot Point (which was currently contaminated), was supplied to the Holcomb Boulevard drinking system. Additionally, water from Hadnot Point was supplemented to Holcomb Boulevard from 1972 to 1985 during dry spring and summer months to keep up with demand. 

Contaminants Found at Camp Lejeune and Associated Health Risks

Trichloroethylene (TCE)

TCE is a chemical compound that is commonly used as a solvent. This man-made product can be found in household products such as wipes and aerosols, carpet cleaners, tool cleaners, and paint removers. The dry-cleaning industry uses TCE as a spot remover and it’s currently used to make refrigerants and degreasers. 

In areas where TCE is produced and used, it can easily pass through soil and accumulate in ground water. Those who live or work around these areas can be exposed to TCE by breathing it in or drinking contaminated water. Foods that have been washed with water contaminated with TCE also pose a risk. Cancers linked to TCE exposure include kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and liver cancer.

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)

Like TCE, PCE is also a man-made solvent, that can be found in many cleaning and metal degreasing products. Typically used in dry cleaning, PCE can remove oils, lubricants, and other stains from fabrics. PCE can also be found in fabric manufacturing, spot cleaners, paint removers, furniture and fabric protectors, water repellents, wood cleaners, and glue. When PCE spills, much of it evaporates into the air and people may be exposed by inhaling the solvent. However, not all of the PCE will evaporate, and in instances like Camp Lejeune, PCE seeped into the soil, contaminating groundwater that was used for drinking and cleaning food.

Cancers linked to PCE exposure include multiple myeloma, bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Studies have also found effects to pregnancy and unborn children. Miscarriages, birth defects, and stunted growth have all been linked to prolonged exposure to PCE.

Vinyl Chloride 

This colorless gas is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is used to make pipes, packaging materials, and wire/cable coatings. High levels of vinyl chloride are typically found in the air where vinyl products are produced. Contaminated water supplies that surround these facilities can have an effect on nearby household water that is used for drinking, washing, and cooking. Cancers linked to vinyl chloride include liver cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia. 

Benzene

A colorless liquid with a sweet odor, benzene, or benzol is a by-product of coke and is used to make plastics, resins, and synthetic fibers. As a solvent, it has been used in rubber goods, dry cleaning, petroleum products, blending of motor fuels, coatings, and automobile manufacturing. Water may become contaminated with benzene when underground storage tanks from hazardous waste sites are damaged and begin leaking. Exposure to benzene can cause acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), multiple myeloma, excessive bleeding, anemia, and decreased immune response. Benzene has also been linked to lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Camp Lejeune Justice Act  of 2022

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, H.R. 2192 is legislation that once signed into law, will allow reparations for military members, their families, staff, and other civilians who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and are now suffering from adverse health effects. Health care access and disability benefits will be expanded; supporting survivors that were harmed by toxic exposures while in the military.

Anyone who lived or worked near the military base for at least 30 days between August 1953 to December 1987 will be able to file claims against the government. Currently, North Carolina had a statute of repose of 10 years which prevents thousands of injured individuals to file claims. Disability compensation through the VA for certain health conditions caused by toxic exposures at Camp Lejeune have been available since 2017. Benefits currently available include presumptive benefits and compensation for family members’ out-of-pocket costs.

With the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, the government is barred from claiming complete immunity, and injured individuals may seek reparations outside of the VA. Those eligible include those who are currently suffering, those who have suffered, adults who were children at time of toxic exposure, and spouses, children, and primary caretakers who may also seek reparations on behalf of those exposed.

Complete list of Cancers and Health Problems Associated with Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune

Cancerous Conditions

  • Adult leukemia
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Breast Cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Lung cancer

Non-Cancerous Conditions

  • Female infertility
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma

How To File A Camp Lejeune Claim

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act is expected to pass soon, expanding eligibility to anyone who has lived, worked, and were otherwise exposed to contaminated water for at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987. This includes:

  • Active-duty members
  • Military staff
  • Family members residing on base
  • Civilians
  • Un-born victims
  • Families of deceased

If you or a loved one worked or lived at Camp Lejeune from August 1953 to December 1987 and are suffering from one of the above listed conditions, contact the attorneys at Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C. for a free consultation. Based on the condition, you may need to provide service and VA medical records, along with information regarding any prior claim made to the VA.

The attorneys are GPW will file the Camp Lejeune lawsuit on your behalf and a significant financial payout may be awarded through either a jury verdict or settlement. The amount awarded may depend on the following factors:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of quality of life, independence
  • Pain, suffering, and emotional damages
  • Other life-altering effects

Camp Lejeune litigation may be new, but the attorneys at GPW have decades of experience representing thousands of people injured through toxic exposures. Our understanding of toxic substances, their effects, and our familiarity with thousands of industrial sites and dangerous products means the tedious research has been done. GPWs base of knowledge and decades of experience mean we are already prepared to defend your rights effectively and aggressively.

Sources:
“Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Health Issues.” US Department of Veterans Affairs, (March 2022). [link]
 “Camp Lejeune Background.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (January 2014). [link]
“Summary of Water Contamination Situation at Camp Lejeune.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (April 2017). [link]
 “Chemicals at Camp Lejeune (FAQs).” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (January 2014). [link]
“H.R.3967 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): Honoring our PACT Act of 2022.” Congress.gov, Library of Congress, (June 2022). [link]
“Tetrachloroethylene.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (October 2014). [link]
“Vinyl Chloride.” National Cancer Institute, (February 2022). [link]
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, History. [link]
“Camp Lejeune Justice Act Passes, Enabling Reparations for Military, Families and Civilian Who Lived and Worked on Base.” Business Wire, (June 2022). [link]

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