Situated in Onslow County, Jacksonville, North Carolina, Camp Lejeune is a military base also known as Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. It houses Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard commands. Construction plans were approved in the spring of 1941 and the base was established a short time later in 1942.
The large training facility boasts 156,000 acres of east coast grounds, housing, and six satellite camps, including New River Air Station, and has 11 miles of beaches, making it a prime location for amphibious assault training. It’s also located between two deep-water ports—Wilmington and Morehead City—allowing for fast deployments.
Today, the camp supports a population of about 170,000, and generates nearly $3 billion annually in commerce. Camp Lejeune has many conveniences, including childcare, shopping, education, family support, banks and credit unions, a commissary, fitness centers, theaters, a library, outdoor recreation, and dining.
“Camp Lejeune stands out as a superior military base,” according to the U.S. Marine Corps’ official website. As a nine-time recipient of the Commander-in-Chief’s Award for Installation Excellence, the base is routinely recognized for its effective asset management and quality program development.
Despite its many accolades, between 1957 to 1985 as many as 1 million people lived and worked there and may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water. People subject to exposure include military and civilian staff and their family members.
Chemical spills and leaks happening on- and off-base are allegedly to blame for the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. These spills and leaks were found to have originated at two of Camp Lejeune’s water treatment plants—Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point.
The Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water treatment plants served enlisted family housing, barracks for unmarried service personnel, base administrative offices, schools, and recreational areas. The Hadnot Point water system also served the base hospital and an industrial area and supplied water to housing on the Holcomb Boulevard water system.
Contaminated wells at both water systems experienced closures from November 1984 to May 1985. The entire Tarawa Terrace plant was closed in 1987.
The Tarawa Terrace treatment plant began operating in 1952. Camp Lejeune groundwater became contaminated with perchloroethylene (PCE) shortly after nearby dry-cleaning operations began in 1953. The perpetrator of improper waste disposal practices is said to be ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry-cleaning firm. Other on-base sources had a minimal impact on the water system, further contributing to the base’s water toxicity.
For drinking water, the EPA has set the maximum safe level for the presence of PCE at 5 ppb (parts per billion). The water from the Tarawa Terrace treatment plant was found to contain PCE levels as high as 215 ppb, or 43 times the maximum safe limit. It was determined that this level of PCE contamination existed for 346 months during the period from November 1957 to February 1987.
The contamination of the Hadnot Point water supply was more complex and involved multiple sources and multiple contaminants. The treatment plant began operating in 1943, but it’s unclear when the contamination began. The primary contaminant was found to be trichloroethylene (TCE), but other contaminants included PCE, benzene, TCE degradation products, and vinyl chloride. Leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites are all believed to have contributed to the contamination of the supply wells at Hadnot Point.
The EPA’s maximum safe level of TCE in drinking water is 5 ppb. The water from the Hadnot plant was found to contain TCE levels as high as 1,400 ppb. TCE contamination affected the Hadnot Point water treatment plant from at least August 1953 to January 1985.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states that past exposures to these contaminants from the 1950’s through February 1985, likely increased the risk of cancers, adverse birth outcomes, and other adverse health effects for residents (including infants and children), civilian workers, Marines, and Naval personnel.
The Marine Corps became aware of the chemical contamination in 1982. An estimated 75,000 people are thought to have been exposed when they drank and bathed in polluted water corrupted with more than 70 chemicals and toxins at levels 240 to 3,400 times those permitted by safety standards.
These chemicals have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility that cause them to evaporate easily. They’re often human-made and used as industrial solvents and fuels. They’re also common groundwater contaminants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
TCE is an odorless, colorless liquid chemical. It’s created by chemical synthesis and therefore, isn’t naturally occurring in the environment. For decades, TCE was commonly used by the U.S. military as a solvent and degreaser for the cleaning of metal weapons and equipment. It’s also used to make refrigerants, in some household products, and by commercial dry cleaners as a spot remover.
People can consume or inhale TCE in places where it’s produced and used. It can also be absorbed through the skin. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned TCE from medical use as a surgical anesthetic and inhaled analgesic in 1977. Part of the ban is due to its inherent risks. Research suggests prolonged and repeated exposure may be linked to kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and liver cancer.
PCE is a clear liquid with a mild odor that is primarily used as a fabric solvent in the commercial dry-cleaning industry. No evidence exists to indicate that PCE is naturally occurring in the environment, so any PCE traces found in groundwater, soil, or the air is due to improper disposal or accidental release or spills. Very low concentrations of PCE can lead to toxicity in humans. Low amounts of PCE (less than 1 ppm) cannot be perceived by smell or taste, but anything above that is detectable in the air by a sweetish smell.
PCE is resistant to degradation as a pollutant. Additionally, it is heavier or denser than water. So, when it infiltrates groundwater, it sits at the bottom of the water and continuously dissolves into the source.
PCE can be inhaled, consumed, absorbed through the skin, and passed from mother to baby via breastfeeding. Health effects from chronic PCE exposure vary from skin irritation to liver and kidney damage. Acute exposure to large amounts of PCE can be deadly. PCE is also considered a carcinogen and can potentially lead to various cancers, including lung, colon-rectum, esophageal, and bladder.
Both TCE and PCE are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Other chemicals found in the contaminated water include benzene and vinyl chloride. Benzene is linked to miscarriages and multiple myeloma, while vinyl chloride exposure may cause liver cirrhosis, cancer, and other health problems.
The main chemicals that Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits focus on are three volatile organic compounds (VOCs): trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), and benzene. Exposure to these chemicals can have serious and sometimes life-threatening health consequences. Both PCE and TCE are known to cause toxicity in humans and animals. Chronic exposure to all three chemicals can lead to cancer, birth defects, and other serious medical issues.
The risks associated with exposure to these chemicals might not be apparent for many years. But scientific studies confirm that the health impacts for those who lived at Camp Lejeune during the decades’-long period of water contamination and came into contact with the polluted water are valid and far-reaching. Additionally, one study published by Frank Bove, a scientist for the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that people stationed at Camp Lejeune when the water was contaminated (the 1950s to 1985) were more likely to die from various cancers and other diseases, including Lou Gehrig’s disease.
All injuries linked to PCE, TCE, and benzene exposure include:
Further, a study conducted by ATSDR found that children exposed to chemicals contained in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water in the first trimester of pregnancy had neural tube birth defects (NTDs) at rates nearly five times higher than normal. The study focused on children born to mothers who lived on the base and were pregnant sometime between 1968 and 1985.
Up until now, Camp Lejeune water contamination victims had little civil recourse for their harm and limited options for compensation. Disability compensation issued by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) was made available to affected veterans, reservists, and guardsmen that served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River between August 1953 and December 1987.
To qualify, these individuals must have suffered from one of the following diseases after exposure:
Additionally, the Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 covered health care for eligible veterans afflicted by certain conditions. These veterans must have served at least 30 days of active duty at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
Qualifying health conditions under this Act include:
In 2009, Marines, their family members, and Camp Lejeune employees began filing lawsuits against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. In 2012, multidistrict litigation (MDL) was created, eventually including approximately 850 injured plaintiffs filing Camp Lejeune civil lawsuits seeking financial compensation.
But these consolidated lawsuits were dismissed in 2016 due to a North Carolina law cutting off the plaintiffs’ legal right to sue since the claims were not acted on within a specified timeframe. This law known as a statute of repose barred the people suffering from cancer and other illnesses after exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune from getting the justice they deserved. In 2018, efforts to appeal were determined unsuccessful and thousands of victims were left without any further options for compensation.
However, the U.S. Senate just passed a new federal law that will enable victims of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune to receive the retribution they’re entitled to.
After Many months of fighting, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was just passed into law as part of the Honoring Our Pact Act. Individuals that were injured due to Camp Lejeune’s water contamination are now once again eligible to file civil lawsuits seeking financial compensation. This compensation might be exceedingly more than what the VA has determined to pay out in disability or health care benefits. You will only have two years to bring your claim once the law goes into effect, meaning it’s imperative that you act quickly to hold the federal government accountable and get what’s owed to you.
Speaking with a knowledgeable and trustworthy personal injury attorney as soon as possible to determine your eligibility can help you protect your legal rights.
If you worked or lived at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and developed negative health effects associated with toxic water exposure (such as those listed above), you may qualify to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for your injuries and related damages. Additionally, people born to mothers who lived or worked at the North Carolina military base and were pregnant during that period might also be eligible to sue if they suffered in-utero harm. If you believe you have a case against the federal government for injuries related to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water crisis, you should speak with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to learn about your rights.
On August 2, 2022, the Senate passed an amended version of legislation called the Camp Lejeune Justice Act via the larger and all-encompassing Honoring Our PACT Act by a vote of 86-11. The bill is now at its final stage, being sent to President Biden for final signature to make it law. As soon as this happens, you and your family will finally be able to recover the compensation you deserve. Contact the lawyers at Taylor Martino Rowan today to learn more about the process to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit.
It’s difficult to provide an exact amount you should expect to receive. Compensation can vary based on the facts of each individual case, including the extent of exposure, the severity of the injuries suffered, and related harms or damages. Once the bill becomes law, more information might be available about expected payouts. Settlements could be significant depending on the evidence and injuries.
Yes. The money you’re receiving from the VA is separate from the money you might be eligible to receive under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
If you hire us to handle your Camp Lejeune water contamination case, we won’t get paid until you receive compensation. This payment arrangement is called a contingency fee arrangement, meaning you pay zero attorney’s fees upfront and if we don’t win, we still don’t get paid. Once you receive a settlement, we subtract our fee from that amount at a percentage agreed upon when you hire us.