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Understanding How People Suffered Harm From Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) maintains a database that has nothing to do with military combat—but has everything to do with the safety and health of U.S. citizens. The Camp Lejeune Drinking Water Notification Database feeds communication to people who were exposed to drinking water contaminants at the military base. Specifically, the Marine Corps uses the system to identify and communicate with people who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987—a period during which the camp’s drinking water wells were contaminated with unregulated industrial chemicals.

Which Areas of Camp Lejeune Were Contaminated?

In the 1980s, the wells that supplied drinking water throughout Camp Lejeune were found to be contaminated with several volatile chemicals, including:

  1. Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  2. Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE)
  3. Vinyl chloride and benzene

The contaminated wells supplied drinking water to the following housing areas on the military base:

  1. Berkeley Manor
  2. Hadnot Point
  3. Hospital Point
  4. Midway Park
  5. Paradise Point
  6. Tarawa Terrace
  7. Watkins Village
  8. Knox Trailer Park (Frenchman's Point)

The contaminated wells were shut down in 1985. Unfortunately, this came after decades of exposure to the industrial chemicals had already affected military service personnel, their families, and civilians. It is estimated that from 1953 to 1985, nearly 9 million service members could have been exposed to harmful water at Camp Lejeune.

Study Connects Contaminated Camp Lejeune Water Wells to Cancers and Other Diseases

On April 24, 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released its Morbidity Study of Former Marines, Employees, and Dependents Potentially Exposed to Contaminated Drinking Water at USMC Base Camp Lejeune. The study aimed to determine whether exposure to the military base’s contaminated drinking water was linked to certain cancers and other diseases in people who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune.

To answer this question, ATSDR researchers sent surveys to more than 247,000 study participants, gathering information about cancers and other illnesses and other possible contributing health factors. Upon identifying health problems in those who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune, researchers compared the data with military service men and women and civilian workers from Camp Pendleton, who would not have suffered exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water. The study also analyzed data to determine whether any increasing level of exposure to the contaminants led to a heightened risk of disease.

The ATSDR study concluded a link did exist between exposure to contaminated drinking water and increased risk for bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and kidney disease. When compared to people who had lived or worked at Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune military personnel and civilians had higher mortality rates for several causes of death, including:

  1. Cancers of the cervix, esophagus, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate, rectum, and soft tissue
  2. Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  3. Leukemias
  4. Multiple myeloma
  5. Multiple sclerosis
  6. Adverse birth outcomes

Presumption of Service Enables Disability Benefits

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established a presumption of service connection for several conditions associated with exposure to contaminants in the Camp Lejeune drinking water supply. This means that for veterans who are diagnosed with any of the conditions, VA will presume that the conditions were caused by their time at Camp Lejeune, and the veterans can receive disability compensation. The agency published the following map showing the Camp Lejeune disability benefits coverage area:

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 Could Open the Doors for Lawsuits

Although U.S. military service members who meet the government’s criteria have been eligible for disability benefits, they have historically been barred from suing the government for damages connected to contaminated-drinking-water-related illnesses.

However, in May 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. President Biden signed the bill into law on August 2, 2022. Now, U.S. military personnel and civilians who sustained losses from drinking contaminated water at the military base could be eligible to file lawsuits and potentially recover damages from the government. Furthermore, the Act provides a two-year window that effectively lifts North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose for claimants to file lawsuits.

Through these lawsuits, military personnel who received health benefits from VA for their Camp Lejeune water-caused illnesses could also still be able to recover compensation for areas not included in disability benefits, such as pain and suffering and diminished quality of life.