The Camp Lejeune lawsuits claim the Camp Lejeune military base contained highly contaminated and toxic industrial chemicals in its water supply that could cause cancer and other illnesses. Our law firm is investigating cases where individuals were exposed to volatile organic compounds at Camp Lejeune and have been diagnosed with cancers.
Individuals who lived or worked at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, between 1953 – 1987 could have been exposed to water contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOC), including trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE); as well as benzene; trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE); and vinyl chloride. Exposure to this contaminated water has been linked to an increased risk of cancers—including kidney cancer, leukemias, and multiple myeloma—as well as adverse birth outcomes and other adverse health effects.
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What Do We Know About the Camp Lejeune Lawsuits?
Volatile organic compounds were detected at Camp Lejeune in 1982 and traced to drinking water coming from two of the eight water treatment plants on the base. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that from 1953 to 1985 the systems that supplied drinking water to two housing areas at Camp Lejeune were contaminated with industrial chemicals. During this period, close to 9,000,000 service members were potentially exposed to this harmful water, according to the VA, making Camp Lejeune one of the worst cases of water contamination in U.S. history.
Several Camp Lejeune base housing areas were affected by the contamination, including:
- Berkeley Manor
- Hadnot Point
- Hospital Point
- Midway Park
- Paradise Point
- Tarawa Terrace
- Watkins Village
- Knox Trailer Park (Frenchman's Point)
Although the VA states that exposure dosage and duration, as well as geographic breadth of contamination, are yet to be determined, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has published research to help answer these questions, determine service-connection for related health problems, and devise policy changes to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Exposure and VA Disability Claims
The discovery of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune prompted VA to establish a presumptive service connection, meaning that servicemembers who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and are diagnosed with certain diseases and conditions need not establish a link between the disease or condition and active-duty service in order to receive VA disability benefits.
Criteria for a Camp Lejeune-Related VA Disability Claim
Military service members must meet all the following criteria to qualify for a Camp Lejeune-related VA disability claim:
- A Veteran, Reservist, or Guardsman
- Stationed at or lived on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as a service member or family member between August 1953 through December 1987
- Did not receive a dishonorable discharge
- Diagnosed with one or more of the following presumptive conditions:
Other Cancer or Health Conditions
The VA provides the following map highlighting Camp Lejeune disability benefit coverage area:
VA disability benefits do not adequately compensate servicemembers and their families for the losses they have endured due to their contaminated-drinking-water-related illnesses. Furthermore, servicemembers have not been previously eligible to sue the federal government for damages.
However, legislation introduced in 2022 aims to lift this restriction.
Legislative Response: Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
In May 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill creating an exception to the rule that the U.S. government is not liable for servicemembers’ injuries. Under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, service members and their families would be permitted to bring legal action to seek financial relief for their injuries/illnesses if resulting from exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
This federal cause of action covers:
- Individuals who lived, worked, or were exposed for at least 30 days to water at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987 (exposure also includes in utero exposure)
- Where water was supplied by or on behalf of the U.S.
- Suffered exposure-related harm
The Marine Corps developed the Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water Notification Database to help identify and communicate with individuals who either lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and could have been exposed to contaminated water.
What are the Toxic Chemicals in Camp Lejeune’s Drinking Water?
The ATSDR provides detailed data about the chemicals found at both the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant and the Hadnot Point Treatment Plant. According to the agency’s analysis, PCE was the main contaminant found at Tarawa Terrace, with concentrations exceeding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant levels. ATSDR explains that this compound degrades in groundwater to TCE, DCE, and vinyl chloride. The source of the PCE contamination was an off-base dry cleaner facility.
At Hadnot Point, the main contaminant found was TCE (at 1,400 parts per billion (ppb)), with the current limit being 5 ppb. DCE, PCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride were also discovered at this treatment plant. According to ATSDR, this contamination stemmed from leaking underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites.
What Are These Chemicals Used For?
The chemicals found in Camp LeJeune drinking water serve multiple purposes.
- TCE and PCE: Volatile organic compounds (fuels and solvents that easily evaporate) used in dry cleaning and in cleaning metal on machines.
- Benzene: An industrial chemical used to make other chemicals that are utilized in the production of resins, plastics, synthetic fibers, and nylon. The chemical is also used in the production of pesticides, detergents, rubbers, drugs, dyes, and lubricants.
- Vinyl chloride: A colorless gas that forms when TCE and PCE break down. The gas is used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is then utilized in making a wide range of plastic products, such as pipes, coatings, and packaging materials.
Injuries & Side Effects of Exposure to Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
The health outcomes of exposure to chemicals depend on several factors:
- Age at the time of exposure
- Amount of exposure
- Duration of exposure
- Means of exposure (drinking, breathing, etc.)
- Personal characteristics and habits
Additionally, several studies have shown that exposure to contaminants found in water systems at Camp Lejeune produce an increased risk of certain cancers and illnesses.
2017 Study of Camp Lejeune Water-Related Diseases
A January 2017 study by ATSDR concluded the following potential health effects from Camp Lejeune’s drinking water:
- Kidney cancer
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)
- Cardiac defects
- Bladder cancer
- Liver cancer
2018 Study of Camp Lejeune Water-Related Diseases
In 2018, the ATSDR published a study aimed at determining whether exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water was linked to specific cancers or other diseases in service members, families, and civilians.
The study reviewed medical problems from this population and compared them with their counterparts at Camp Pendleton, who had not been exposed to the contaminated water. The group also researched whether increased levels of exposure to the drinking water contaminants were connected to an increased risk of disease.
Researchers concluded there was a connection between exposure to Camp Lejeune drinking water and an increased risk of bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and kidney disease.
Specifically, the study showed the following links:
- TCE and PCE exposure: Linked to increased risk for kidney cancer in Marines and civilian workers
- TCE and PCE exposure: Linked to increased risk for bladder cancer and kidney disease in civilian workers
- PCE exposure: Linked to increased risk for bladder cancer and kidney disease in Marines
The study also showed that risks for the following contaminant-disease combinations increased with exposure:
- Kidney cancer: TCE and PCE in Marines and TCE/PCE in civilian workers
- Kidney disease: PCE in Marines and TCE/PCE in civilian workers
What Compensation Is Recoverable in a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit?
The amounts that claimants can receive in Camp Lejeune verdicts or settlements depend on multiple factors, including the type and extent of disease or health condition suffered as a result of exposure to the base’s contaminated water.
Generally, this type of action will involve several types of recoverable damages, including (but not limited to):
- Medical treatment (past and future)
- Lost wages (past and future)
- Pain and suffering from injuries, treatment & recovery (past and future)
- Diminished enjoyment of life (past and future)
- Diminished earning capacity
- Possible punitive damages
Our Camp Lejeune attorneys will work to recover the maximum financial compensation for your losses which occur from your exposure to contaminated drinking water at the military base.
The Timeline Important to the Camp Lejeune Lawsuits
1942: Construction of all principal areas of the Camp Lejeune base are completed or begun.
1989: The EPA adds Camp Lejeune and ABC One-Hour Cleaners to list of Superfund Sites, adding both to the National Priorities List
1990: ATSDR identifies PCE as the main contaminant of concern in Camp Lejeune’s Tarawa Terrace drinking water system. Despite the well’s removal, groundwater remains contaminated, making it and subsurface soils a public health concern.
1997: ATSDR identifies exposure to Camp Lejeune contaminated water as a past health hazard and recommends study to assess danger to children who had been exposed in utero.
2003: ATSDR identifies from phone survey 106 cases of children with birth defects and some form of childhood cancer.
2007: Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant analysis shows that residents in this area of housing from November 1957 to February 1987 received PCE-contaminated drinking water that exceeded EPA’s max contaminant level.
2008: National Defense Authorization Act requires a health survey of people potentially exposed to Camp Lejeune contaminated drinking water.
2011: ATSDR mails health surveys to people who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period, asking recipients about 20 different cancers and diseases.
2014: Mortality Study of Marine and Naval Personnel; Mortality Study of Civilian Employees
2016: Cancer Incidence Study to determine if exposure to contaminated waters increased risk of specific cancers.
2017: ATSDR’s Camp Lejeune Drinking Water Public Health Assessment released showing health effects of VOC exposure from drinking water at Camp Lejeune.
Scientific Studies about the Adverse Health Effects from Contaminated Camp Lejeune Drinking Water
ATSDR Assessment of the Evidence for the Drinking Water Contaminants at Camp Lejeune and Specific Cancers and Other Diseases (ASDR - January 13, 2017)
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed models aimed at characterizing the geographic extent and intensity of water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The study has helped inform possible service-connection for health effects of exposure and to make policy changes.
Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune (National Academy of Sciences – 2009)
Provides a summary of what was known about the historical Camp Lejeune water contamination up to the year 2009. A National Research Council committee reviews associations between adverse health effects and historical data on exposures to contaminated drinking water at the base.
Angiosarcoma: A Rare Malignancy Linked to Chemical Exposures (Cureus - May 2022)
Case of a 90-year-old veteran with a hematoma from a traumatic head injury. A CT scan showed cutaneous angiosarcoma. He had been exposed to PCE, TCE, and vinyl chloride while at Camp Lejeune.