Seeking Justice for Camp Lejeune Military Members and their Families
Camp Lejeune Background
Nestled in Onslow County, North Carolina, since its establishment in 1942, Camp Lejeune has served as a vital military stronghold for the United States. Home to six Marine Corps units and two U.S. Navy commands, the base plays a crucial role in various military operations, from intelligence to reconnaissance.
Yet, Camp Lejeune bears a somber history of misconduct and concealment. In 1980, authorities uncovered a troubling truth – water contamination that had been exposing residents on the base, dating as far back as 1953, to toxic water.
Despite the nation's pledge to safeguard its dedicated service members, it took an agonizing five to seven years for the government to shut down the contaminated water sources. During this time, unknowing residents continued to use this toxic water for daily activities, including bathing, cooking, and drinking.
Even more disheartening, it would be over a decade before the United States Military informed former residents of their hazardous exposure. To this day, the military has not taken full responsibility for the catastrophe at Camp Lejeune. And until recently, those heroes affected by the tainted water on the base had limited avenues for seeking legal recourse.
Thanks to the enactment of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in 2022, military personnel and their families stationed at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period finally have an opportunity to share their stories in a court of law.
Exploring the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
As far back as 1953, Camp Lejeune's water supply systems fell victim to contamination by industrial solvents. Astonishingly, this contamination went undetected for nearly three decades. Throughout this time, the affected wells continued to provide water to two residential neighborhoods on the base: Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point.
Tarawa Terrace Contamination
Tarawa Terrace, since the early days of Camp Lejeune, provided housing to enlisted men, women, their families, and barracks for unmarried service personnel. Serving as not just a residence but also a hub for administrative offices, schools, and recreational areas, Tarawa Terrace relied on a water treatment plant.
In 1980, during routine water testing, the military discovered perchloroethylene (PCE) contamination at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant. PCE, often found in industrial solvents, has the potential to seep into deeper aquifers and slowly dissolve into groundwater. Further investigation revealed that an off-base dry cleaner, notorious for improper disposal of chemical waste, was the primary source of contamination. Researchers even suggest contamination might have begun as early as 1953, coinciding with the dry cleaner's opening.
However, it's essential to note that the National Resource Council did not absolve Camp Lejeune of responsibility for the Tarawa Terrace contamination, acknowledging that on-base contamination also played a role.
Despite the discovery of contamination in 1980, officials took another five years to shut down the tainted wells. This delay meant that residents and workers in the area continued to be exposed through their daily water use, even inhaling PCE vapors during activities like bathing and showering.
The health effects of exposure to PCE vary based on factors such as duration, quantity, type, and timing of exposure. Studies have linked PCE to various health issues, including bladder cancer, vision and memory problems, headaches, and coordination difficulties. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to high levels of PCE in drinking water can increase the risk of certain cancers and kidney damage.
For nearly three decades, the U.S. Military exposed its own personnel to PCE, and shockingly, no immediate action was taken to notify the affected population or address the issue. Today, those who served at Camp Lejeune are grappling with the devastating consequences of the toxic water exposure.
Hadnot Point Contamination
Another area impacted by water contamination at Camp Lejeune is the Hadnot Point neighborhood. Similar to Tarawa Terrace, Hadnot Point was a residential area for active military personnel and their families. Additionally, it housed offices, schools, and recreational facilities.
Investigations into Hadnot Point's water treatment well contamination revealed a complex web of pollution sources, including industrial areas, drum dumps, transformer storage lots, and more. Unlike Tarawa Terrace, the contamination source at Hadnot Point was not traced back to an off-base dry cleaner.
The contamination at Hadnot Point was primarily attributed to trichloroethylene (TCE), another industrial solvent. Like PCE, TCE can penetrate the ground and contaminate groundwater, and exposure can occur through inhalation of vapors, even during everyday activities like taking a shower or inhaling the scent of detergent from laundry.
Studies have linked TCE exposure to central nervous system issues, dizziness, weakness, confusion, and numbness. Recent research has even suggested a connection between TCE exposure and increased risks of fetal defects, stillbirths, and miscarriages. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified several types of cancers, including kidney, liver, cervix, and lymphatic system cancers, associated with trichloroethylene exposure.
It's not surprising that women stationed at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 experienced higher rates of miscarriages, congenital disabilities, and stillbirths.
Accountability for Camp Lejeune's Toxic Water
Evidence of the military's involvement in contaminating Camp Lejeune's Hadnot Point water is compelling. Not only did officials engage in on-base activities that polluted the water treatment plant servicing the Hadnot area, but they also failed to act promptly upon discovering the water's toxicity.
In the case of Tarawa Terrace water wells, although investigations traced the initial source of the toxic water to an off-base dry cleaner, on-base activities and disposal practices could not be ruled out as contributors to the contamination.
Instead of closing down the contaminated wells at both Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point and promptly alerting residents to the dangers, officials continued to allow active military personnel and their families to use the water for at least five more years. This extended exposure included daily activities like bathing, drinking, cooking, and cleaning.
Camp Lejeune demonstrated negligence in handling the water crisis. Officials not only failed to act swiftly, thereby putting the lives and health of military personnel and their families at risk, but they also took another decade to inform former residents of their exposure to chemical toxins.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act and Seeking Justice
Until recently, Marine, Naval and other military members and their families who suffered severe illnesses due to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune had limited avenues for legal recourse. However, the House and Senate passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. This act now provides a pathway to compensation for Marines, Navy, and other military members and their families who worked or lived at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987,
If you or a loved one worked or resided at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, you may be entitled to substantial compensation.
As a veteran, Robert Kisselburgh is ready to assist you and your family if you have been impacted by this disaster.
Call us today for a free consultation
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- National Research Council 2009. Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing Potential Health Effecrs, Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press.
- Health Effects Linked with Trichloroethylene (TCE), Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), Benzene and Vinyl Chloride Exposure. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; January 16, 2014.
- Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and Drinking Water. Minnesota Department of Health; July 2014.
- Trichloroethylene, Environmental Protection Agency.