Toxic Water and Contaminated Wells
What the Camp Lejeune Justice Act Means for Marines and their Families
Established in 1942 in Onslow County, North Carolina, Camp Lejeune is a critical asset for the U.S. military. It remains the site of six Marine Corp and two U.S. Navy commands. Soldiers at Camp Lejeune perform everything from intelligence to reconnaissance.
However, Camp Lejeune has a dark history of corruption and cover up. In 1980, military leaders discovered water contamination that exposed residents who lived on the base as early as 1953 to toxic water.
The United States Government claims to care for its men and women in uniform. While these brave soldiers risked their lives for their country, it would take another five to seven years for the government to close the contaminated water wells. In the meantime, residents continued to bathe, cook, and drink toxic water, unaware of the risks.
It would take more than a decade for the United States Military to notify former residents of their exposure.
To this day, the military refuses to take accountability for the devastation at Camp Lejeune. And until recently, the heroes affected by the toxic water on base had few options for legal recourse.
Thanks to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, military personnel and their families stationed at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period will finally get a chance to hear their stories in court.
Here's everything you need to know about toxic water and the Camp Lejeune Lawsuits.
How Did the Wells Get Contaminated at Camp Lejeune?
As far back as 1953, industrial solvents contaminated two water-supply systems on Camp Lejeune's base.
The contamination went unnoticed for almost three decades. Throughout that time, the contaminated wells continued to service two residential neighborhoods on the base: Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point.
Contamination at Camp Lejeune's Tarawa Terrace Neighborhood
From the early days of Camp Lejeune, the Tarawa Terrace neighborhood provided housing to enlisted men and women and their families and barracks for unmarried service personnel. From the beginning of the Marine Corp military base until its closure in 1985, the water treatment plant that serviced the Tarawa Terrace area also supplied water to military administrative offices, schools, and recreational areas.
During routine water testing in 1980, military personnel discovered perchloroethylene (PCE) contamination in the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant.
Often found in industrial solvents, PCE belongs to a class of toxins that the National Resource Center says "have the potential to sink into the deeper aquifers. Such chemicals get trapped in the soil and dissolve slowly into groundwater." 1
Further investigation traced the PCE contamination to an off-base dry cleaner who had a history of incorrectly disposing of their chemical waste. Although data is only available from 1980-1985, researchers suggest that the Tarawa Terrace well could have been contaminated as early as 1953, the year off-base dry cleaners opened.
Still, the National Resource Council doesn't discount Camp Lejeune's responsibilities regarding the contamination at Tarawa Terrace, concluding that "There was some on-base contamination of the Tarawa Terrace supply system as well." 1
Furthermore, when military officials discovered the contamination in 1980, they would take another five years to close the contaminated wells.
During the three decades that PCE contaminated the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant, residents and workers in the area continued to become exposed through bathing, drinking, cooking, and everyday water use.
According to the Nation Resource Center's Camp Lejeune contamination report, "PCE (and other solvents) can evaporate into the air (volatilize) when present in hot water used for bathing, showering, or washing dishes or clothing and can then be inhaled." 1
Studies have determined that the effects of exposure depend on several factors, including the length of, amount of, type of, and time (during pregnancy, infancy, etc.) of exposure.
When considering the risk of adverse PCE effects, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry emphasizes the importance of routines and habits. 2
Studies have linked PCE to several health issues, including bladder cancer, problems with vision and memory, headaches, and troubles with muscle coordination.
According to a study by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), "Drinking water with levels of PCE that are higher than the MDH guidance value over several years could increase the risk of some types of cancer and kidney damage." 3
For almost three decades, the United States Military exposed its people to PCE. Worse, when they found out there was a problem, officials took no action to move toward notifying the affected population, nor did they put effort into solving the problem. Today the people who served at Camp Lejeune are starting to see the devastating impacts of the toxic water.
Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune's Hadnot Point Neighborhood
Another area affected by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune is the base's Hadnot Point neighborhood.
Like the Tarawa Terrace, Hadnot Point is a neighborhood at Camp Lejeune that housed active military men and their families. It also served as a center for offices, schools, and parks. However, investigations found that the Hadnot Point well was not affected by the off-base dry cleaner.
Investigations revealed the source of the Hadnot Point water treatment well contamination was more complicated to determine than Tarawa.
According to the National Resource Center's report, the Hadnot Point contamination had "multiple sources of pollutants, including an industrial area, a drum dump, a transformer storage lot, an industrial fly ash dump, an open storage pit, a former fire training area, a site of a former on-base dry cleaner, a liquids disposal area, a former burn dump, a fuel-tank sludge area, and the site of the original base dump." 1
Similar to Tarawa Terrace, officials discovered the Hadnot Point contamination in 1980 but failed to take action for at least five years. However, investigations into the Hadnot Point contamination could not determine a date when the contamination likely started.
Furthermore, officials discovered that PCE was the primary contamination at Hadnot Point. Instead, scientists detected a significant presence of trichloroethylene (TCE) in samples from wells that serviced Camp Lejeune's Hadnot neighborhood.
TCE also comes from industrial solvents. As part of the same class of chemical toxins as PCE, TCE can penetrate the ground, leak into the soil, and contaminate groundwater. TCE exposure can also occur through breathing in vapors, putting people who lived and worked in Hadnot at risk when doing anything from breathing in the seam of a shower to inhaling the smell of detergent on a load of laundry.
For years Camp Lejeune residents were exposed to TCE, a toxin that studies have linked to central nervous system issues as well as dizziness, weakness, confusion, and numbness. Recent studies suggest a connection between TCE exposure and an increased risk of fetal defects, stillbirths, and miscarriages.
According to research by the Environmental Protection Agency, " A recent analysis of ... trichloroethylene exposure [is] associated with several types of cancers in humans, especially kidney, liver, cervix, and lymphatic system." 4
It's no coincidence then that women stationed at Camp Lejeune between 1953-1987 experienced an uptick in miscarriages, congenital disabilities, and stillbirths.
Who is Responsible for Camp Lejeune's Toxic Water?
The evidence of the military's involvement in Camp Lejeune's Hadnot Point contaminated water is overwhelming. Not only did officials engage in on-base activities that polluted the water treatment plant that serviced the Hadnot area, but they also failed to act quickly after discovering the water was toxic.
In the case of Tarawa Terrace water wells, although investigations traced the initial source of the toxic water to an off-base dry cleaner, researchers could not rule out on-base activities and disposal practices as a contributor to the contamination.
Instead of shutting down the contaminated wells at Hadnot and Tarawa and alerting residents of the dangers, officials continued allowing active military men, women, and their families to use the water for at least five more years.
That's five years worth of bathing, drinking, cooking, and cleaning with the water. It's also five years of children taking their nightly baths or playing in sprinklers on hot summer days.
Camp Lejeune was negligent in its handling of the water crisis. Not only did officials fail to act fast and continue to risk the lives and health of military men, women, and families, but they would also take another decade to alert former residents of their exposure to chemical toxins.
What the Camp Lejeune Justice Act Means for Affected Military Families
Until recently, Marines and their families who contracted severe illnesses due to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune had few options for legal recourse. But earlier this year, the House and Senate passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022.
When President Biden puts his signature on the bipartisan legislation, the law will allow an opportunity for US Marines and their families to seek justice. Those who fought for their country only to suffer severe illnesses due to the government's negligence will finally have their voices heard in court.
It's time to hold the powers behind the Camp Lejeune contamination and cover up accountable.
If you or a loved one lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, you might be entitled to significant compensation.
Call one of our experienced legal experts today to understand all your options.