From 1953 until 1987, members of the Marine Corps and their families were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The specific contaminants within Camp Lejeune’s drinking water are linked to numerous illnesses, including multiple forms of cancer.
Until recently, the law provided little recourse to the individuals who were exposed to the contaminants.
Why is the contamination at Camp Lejeune in the media now?
In August of 2022, the federal government enacted the “Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022,” which provides a means by which veterans and/or their family members can, first, file an administrative claim for relief and, second, file a lawsuit if that administrative claim is denied.
In order to participate in the program established by the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, veterans or their family members must have lived or worked on Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, for at least 30 days. It was during that time period only that individuals would have been exposed to contaminated drinking water.
What are the most common types of injuries people are seeing from the contamination?
The illnesses caused by exposure to these chemicals may include the following:
- Miscarried pregnancy
- Birth defects
- Female infertility
- Kidney cancer
- Livery cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Adult leukemia
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Aplastic anemia
- Myelodysplastic syndrome
- Cervical cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Soft tissue cancer
- Multiple sclerosis
What contaminants were veterans and their families exposed to at Camp Lejeune?
The contaminants known to have been present in the Camp Lejeune drinking water include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
- Vinyl chloride
Each of these contaminants has a “maximum contaminant level” in drinking water, above which point the federal government recognizes it risks causing diseases (such as cancer) in human beings. The maximum contaminant level for both TCE and PCE, for example, is 5 parts per billion.
But these levels of acceptable contamination were exceeded as early as 1953 and continued to persist in the Camp Lejeune groundwater until the mid-1980s—which explains the time period in which one must have lived or worked on base to participate in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
In fact, a 2017 report commissioned by the federal government revealed that TCE contamination levels of the water within the Hadnot Point distribution system reached as high as 1,400 parts per billion in 1982—or 2,800 times the acceptable limit of contamination. The Hadnot Point treatment plant provided drinking water to the main portion of the base at Camp Lejeune, including most of the barracks and workplaces.
The same 2017 report reviewed the scientific connection linking the 4 major contaminants found in the Camp Lejeune water to 15 different illnesses. All 15 illnesses were found to have at least some scientific evidence linking exposure to sickness, though some evidence was either inconsistent or insufficient to produce a scientific conclusion.
|Illness Type||TCE||PCE||Benzene||Vinyl Chloride|
|Multiple Myeloma||Sufficient||Insufficient Information||Sufficient||–|
|Liver Cancer||Sufficient||Insufficient Information||Insufficient Information||Sufficient|
|Pancreatic Cancer||Inconsistent||Inconsistent and Insufficient||Insufficient||Insufficient|
|Breast Cancer||Inconsistent||Inconsistent and Insufficient||Insufficient||–|
|End Stage Renal Disease||Sufficient||Sufficient||–||–|
|Major Birth Defects||Sufficient||Insufficient||–||–|
It should be noted that instances in which the report found scientific evidence either too inconsistent or insufficient to prove a link between exposure to the chemical and the disease does not mean that the link does not exist. Additional studies have taken place since this report was produced nearly 6 years ago. And additional cancers and other illnesses are being investigated in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act litigation.
How can veterans and their families recover compensation if they became ill after exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune?
There’s a 2-year “statute of limitations” in which individuals must file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act or be forever barred from doing so. This 2-year period of time began to run on the date the act was signed into law on August 10, 2022.
No claims will be allowed after August 10, 2024. Thus, time is of the essence, and you should contact an attorney quickly if you think you may be entitled to compensation. While the Camp Lejeune Justice Act permits civil claims to be filed on behalf of servicemembers or their families, a claimant still must prove the scientific link between his or her exposure to Camp Lejeune water and the illness that they developed.
Likely, this proof will be provided by a team of experts experienced in groundwater contamination, the effects of toxic chemicals on the body, and the causation of cancer and other serious illnesses. No claim will be guaranteed a positive result. Therefore it’s important to hire attorneys experienced in complex cases who have the ability to represent you with competence and determination.
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Chappell, Smith & Arden, P.A. practices law in South Carolina and Georgia and has substantial experience in complex litigation, mass tort litigation, class actions and product liability. Our attorneys have represented thousands of servicemembers and their families in cases involving the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the 3M Combat Earplugs products liability litigation. Our attorneys also have successfully litigated toxic exposure cases such as industrial groundwater contamination and cancer caused by exposure to Roundup.