The History of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination. I am writing this blog article to inform folks about one of our national tragedies, a scandal that affected our brave soldiers, and their families who were living on the military base called Camp Lejeune. And sadly this injustice was perpetrated by the Department of Navy who oversaw the administration of the military base and aided and defended by the Justice Department lawyers.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is a 246-square-mile United States military training facility based in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and established in 1941. And is one of the world-famous Marine training bases, the other being Camp Pendleton based in California.
Water Contamination Occurred from 1953 to 1987
The history of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination is complicated, lengthy (spanning decades), and made confusing by the constant denials by the Department of Navy and vigorously defended by the Department of Justice.
According to legal documents, from at least 1953 through 1987, Marines, their families, other army personnel, and civilian contractors at Camp Lejeune drank, cooked, and bathed in water contaminated with dangerous industrial solvent toxins at concentrations 240 to 3,400 times permitted by safety standards.
The Cause of Groundwater Contamination
The history of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination painstakingly demonstrated that the source of water contamination was the illegal dumping of industrial solvents, leaks from solvent storage tanks, industrial area spills, the Marine Corps dumping oil and industrial wastewater in storm drains at the base, and the combination of on-base and off-base solvent disposal practices, especially from off-base dry cleaners that seeped into the groundwater.
The water for the base was drawn from several wells located on the base. Because of the contamination in the groundwater, the wells themselves became contaminated, and so the drinking water and water used for cooking and bathing were all contaminated.
According to the Department of Veterans industrial solvents, usually liquid substances, are used for cleaning, degreasing, paint stripping, and thinning oil-based paints. They are found in fuels, adhesives, glues, cleaning fluids, epoxy resins, lacquers, hardeners, paints, paint thinners, primers, and nail polish. Many soldiers use industrial solvents in order to accomplish their military tasks. Too much exposure to some industrial solvents can cause short-term or long-term health effects.
The main chemicals involved were trichloroethylene (TCE, a degreaser), perchloroethylene (PCE, a dry cleaning solvent), and benzene; however, more than 70 chemicals have been identified as contaminants at Lejeune.
The Department of Navy Knew about the Illegal Dumping
The Department of Navy knew about the illegal dumping of industrial solvents for many years. A 1974 base order required the safe disposal of industrial solvents and warned that improper handling could cause drinking water contamination, but still, solvents were dumped or buried near base wells for years.
The dumped solvents leaked into the groundwater from which the base wells drew their water supply.
The base’s wells were shut off in the mid-1980s but were placed back online in violation of the law because of a water shortage, and radioactive waste material was also found dumped at the base.
Volatile Organic Compounds found in the Camp’s drinking water
In 1982, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were found in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water supply.
VOC contamination of groundwater can cause birth defects, cancers, including leukemias, and lymphomas, neurological diseases including Parkinson’s disease, and other serious ill health effects. This widely-known government information was not made public for nearly two decades when the government attempted to identify those who may have been exposed.
The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten
An advocacy group called The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten was created to inform potential victims of the water contamination at Lejeune. The group’s website includes information about the contamination at Lejeune, including various types of cancer, leukemia, liver and kidney diseases, neurological damage, and birth defects, that have been noted in people who drank the contaminated water.
Numerous base housing areas were affected by the contamination, including Tarawa Terrace, Midway Park, Berkeley Manor, Paradise Point, Hadnot Point, Hospital Point, and Watkins Village.
Over 2 Million people affected by the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Sadly, while we may never know the true extent of the affected people, the number of early deaths, cancers, birth defects, kidney and liver problems, and neurological diseases; according to some experts, could be more than 2 million people. That’s a huge number of injured people who may have been exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune over a period of 30 years.
A lot of these afflicted folks were simply told that their diseases were a result of bad luck, bad genetics, “we don’t know what causes cancer”, “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”, and “it is what it is.”
Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022
Finally, after years of appeals by advocacy groups, victims, and appeals to Congress, the Camp LeJeune Justice Act in 2022 was passed and the bill was signed into law by President Biden on August 10, 2022.
The language of Section 804 provides for monetary relief for those injured by exposure to the Camp Lejeune base and its toxic water.
To qualify for compensation, folks need to demonstrate thirty days of “living” or “working” or “otherwise” being exposed between 1953 and 1987. This includes in-utero exposure.
Specific injuries must be demonstrated and they must be associated with some condition caused by the base toxicants. Some of the possible conditions may include those listed for the Janey Ensminger Act of 2012. 38 C.F.R. 17.400(b). See below.
Camp Lejeune Litigation History
Many attempts over the years of litigation failed and were ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court for any redress for injuries. Basically a shutdown of any pathways for compensation. The Department of Navy and the Justice Department fought the victims at every step of the litigation denying any responsibility or admitting any liability.
At least 850 former base residents filed claims for nearly $4 billion from the military. The multi-district litigation, MDL-2218, was dismissed on North Carolina statute of repose grounds on December 5, 2016, and the appeal to the 11th Circuit failed (Straw, et. al. v. United States, 16-17573).
The U.S. Supreme Court refused certiorari, in other words not hear the case or evaluate the merits of the appeal.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2014 potentially stopped legal avenues for groundwater contamination lawsuits by families at Camp Lejeune.
The Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022, Section 804(b) of the PACT Act, S. 3373, completely reverses this failure to provide justice to the victims. Public Law 117-168, SEC. 804(b), 136 Stat. 1802-1804.
The Long Road to Justice, some of the Victims’ stories
On March 8, 2010, Paul Buckley of Hanover, Massachusetts, received a 100 percent, service-connected disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs for cancer (multiple myeloma), which was linked to toxic water exposure on Camp Lejeune. This is believed to be the first time the government has admitted the link between the contamination and illnesses.
In 2007, Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine master sergeant, found a document dated 1981 that described a radioactive dump site near a rifle range at the camp. According to the report, the waste was laced with strontium-90, an isotope known to cause cancer and leukemia.
According to Camp Lejeune’s installation restoration program manager, base officials learned about the document in 2004. Ensminger served in the Marine Corps for 24 and a half years and lived for part of that time at Camp Lejeune. In 1985, his nine-year-old daughter, Janey, died of cancer, related to water contamination.
On July 6, 2009, Laura Jones filed suit against the U.S. government over the contaminated water at the base. Jones previously lived at the base where her husband, a Marine, was stationed, and she has since been diagnosed with lymphoma.
Twenty former residents of Camp Lejeune—all men who lived there during the 1960s and the 1980s—have been diagnosed with breast cancer. In April 2009, the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry withdrew a 1997 public health assessment at Camp Lejeune that denied any connection between the toxicants and illness.
The Janey Ensminger Act
In July 2012, the U.S. Senate passed a bill, called the Janey Ensminger Act in honor of retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger’s daughter Janey who died of cancer at age 9, authorizing medical care to military and family members who had resided at the base between 1957 and 1987 and developed conditions linked to the water contamination.
The measure applies to up to 750,000 people. The bill applies to 15 specific ailments believed to be linked to the contamination, including cancer of the esophagus, lung, breast, bladder, or kidney; leukemia; multiple myeloma; myelodysplastic syndromes; renal toxicity; hepatic steatosis; female infertility; miscarriage; scleroderma; and/or neurobehavioral effects or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is assigned to provide medical care. This health coverage was worded to require the victim to have lived on the base and anyone who slept off base was excluded regardless of getting the illnesses on the list.
A 2023 cohort study of 172,128 American veterans who were stationed in Lejeune and 168,361 who were stationed in Pendelton found that the rates of Parkinson’s disease were 70% higher in Lejeune as compared to Pendelton, suggesting that exposure to trichloroethylene in the water may increase risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm Investigating Camp Lejeune Injury and Death Cases Nationwide
Did you or a loved one experience injuries after service at Camp Lejeune? Dr. Shezad Malik law firm based in Dallas, Texas is now reviewing injuries and wrongful death claims nationwide. Please call 214-390-3189 or email us for further information.