Issues Surrounding Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

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There are now laws that allow people to file a claim for compensation after suffering from illnesses related to issues surrounding Camp Lejeune water contamination. However, the process moves at a snail’s pace.

Dangerous chemicals contaminated the water supply at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina from 1953 to 1987. These chemicals included trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE) and benzene.

1. Chemicals

In October 1980, chemists testing treated water at Camp Lejeune’s Tarawa Terrace discovered that organic solvents—the chemicals used to make teflon and other products—were present at concentrations that exceeded safe levels. One Army lab worker wrote that the water was “highly contaminated” and that there was strong interference with tests caused by organic chemicals in the drinking water. For four years, Marine families at the base drank and bathed in tainted water.

Many have questioned when and how the contamination was discovered, whether the appropriate actions were taken, and whether officials tried to cover up the results of the investigation. Three independent inquiries (a 2004 Drinking Water Fact-Finding Panel chartered by the Marine Corps, a Government Accountability Office review, and an EPA criminal investigative division inquiry) have examined these issues. However, ongoing research is likely to take years to produce results and will not definitively determine whether exposure to the chemicals at Camp Lejeune led to adverse health outcomes.

2. Health

During its early years, the Marine Corps disposed of oil and industrial waste in storm drains and buried potentially radioactive materials at Camp Lejeune. The military also discarded organic solvents, despite the fact that the military knew these dangerous chemicals could contaminate drinking water.

By the 1980s, stricter environmental regulations led military chemists to begin testing the base’s numerous wells. They found trace amounts of organic compounds in treated water in October 1980, but for unknown reasons, they did not report those results to anyone.

These chemicals, including trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE) and benzene, are known to cause serious health problems. Exposure to these substances can lead to cancer, neurological diseases and birth defects. Whether a person develops a problem depends on how long they were exposed, the amount of exposure, how they were exposed (drinking or breathing) and their general health.

3. Legal Issues

For decades, people living and working at Camp Lejeune were unknowingly exposed to toxic substances in the water. This exposure has caused a multitude of illnesses including bladder cancer, liver disease and other serious conditions. The victims have fought for recognition and compensation for years.

The contamination occurred at the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water supply wells. These two wells served enlisted family housing, base administrative offices, and other facilities on the base. These wells were contaminated by the industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). These solvents were used at Camp Lejeune and at an off-base dry cleaner.

The contamination occurred because the military did not follow basic environmental stewardship rules, such as dumping organic solvents and chemicals into storm drains or burying them. The toxins were also introduced because the base failed to follow regulations regarding disposal practices for off-base dry cleaners. Fortunately, the Marine Corps admitted to the problem in the 1980s and began taking action.

4. Compensation

If you were exposed to Camp Lejeune water contamination and developed an illness that can be linked to it, you may qualify for compensation. This includes disability veterans benefits and healthcare. It can also include reimbursement for medical expenses, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, transportation costs and more. The United States Government has acknowledged that there is a link between the contaminated Camp Lejeune drinking water and certain adverse health conditions.

The recently passed Honoring Our PACT Act allows those affected by the contamination to file claims. It circumvents the statute of repose and permits people who lived, worked or were harmed in utero at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 to pursue justice.

Victims say that base leadership knew the water was dangerous and did not take action. They claim that the USMC concealed information about the contamination and did not properly resolve it or notify former residents of the problem. This was not only negligent, but it was a violation of the United States Constitution and its laws.