Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawyer

Marine Corps Camp Lejeune is a military training facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It’s been in operation since 1942, and today is home to about 170,000 people, including active-duty military members and their families, retirees, and civilian employees.

Those who lived, worked, and served at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987 may have been exposed to drinking water contaminated with toxic chemicals. These toxins have been connected to a variety of health issues, including some types of cancer.

Unfortunately, federal law has so far prevented victims from bringing lawsuits against the U.S. government for claims related to this issue. A new law called the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) may soon change that.

The Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyers at Chaffin Luhana are dedicated to fighting for the rights of veterans and their families.  If you or someone you love has been affected by a Camp Lejeune water contamination health issue, schedule a free no-obligation consultation or call us now at 1-888-480-1123.

A History of Contamination at Camp Lejeune

Warnings about potential problems with Camp Lejeune’s water supply first surfaced in 1980. The laboratory of the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency collected water samples at the location on October 21, 1980, and ran tests on those samples ten days later.

The results indicated that the water was “highly contaminated” with low molecular weight halo-generated hydrocarbons. These are synthetic chemicals used as refrigerants and aerosol sprays. The Army ran follow-up tests in January, February, and March 1981 and sent reports to Camp Lejeune. Each one carried similar warnings about contamination.

On August 10, 1982, a chemist at Grainger Laboratories who had been contracted by the Marine Corps to conduct environmental sampling wrote to the Commanding General of the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base about the contamination.

He stated that the testing indicated the water was contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbons that “appeared to be at high levels…” He added that these chemicals were “more important from a health standpoint” than trihalomethane, which was what they were trying to test for in the first place. Trihalomethanes (TTHM) are a group of disinfection byproducts. They form when chlorine compounds used to disinfect water react with other naturally occurring chemicals in the water.

The Grainger lab later identified the chemicals that had been interfering with the test results:

  • tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
  • trichloroethylene (TCE)

Testing at the Tarawa Terrace Water Treatment Plant

Results showed that the interfering chemical was tetrachloroethylene (PCE), also called perchloroethylene (PERC). This is a liquid solvent primarily used in dry cleaning operations, textile processing, and metal manufacturing.

Investigators found that an off-base dry-cleaning company appeared to be the source of the contamination. They estimated that spills and improper disposal practices started as early as 1953, the year when the company began its dry-cleaning operations.

The EPA links exposure to the chemical to adverse effects on the kidney, liver, immune system, hematologic system, development, and reproduction. Long-term exposure can also cause neurological effects, such as impaired cognitive and motor function.

Studies of people exposed in the workplace have found associations with several types of cancer including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The EPA has classified the chemical as likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

Testing at the Hadnot Point Water Treatment Plant

Analysis of the test results from this plant also indicated contamination with low levels of tetrachloroethylene, as well as higher levels of trichloroethylene (TCE). The latter is used in many industries, usually as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts, but also as an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers, and spot removers.

The source of this contamination was more complex than that of the Tarawa Terrace system. It involved multiple sources including underground storage tank leaks at dumps and storage lots, industrial area spills, and water disposal sites.

Trichloroethylene is a known carcinogen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Epidemiological studies report that exposure to this chemical is associated with several types of cancers in humans, especially kidney, liver, cervix, and cancers in the lymphatic system.

The EPA is currently reassessing the cancer classification of this chemical.

Further Assessments Suggest Water Contaminated for As Long as 30 Years

Neither of these two chemicals was regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act at the time. The supervisory chemist in the Quality Control Lab at Camp Lejeune (Elizabeth A. Betz) warned, however, that they were harmful to humans, noting that high-level exposure had been reported to produce liver and kidney damage as well as central nervous system disturbances.

Despite these warnings, it took more than two more years—and the discovery of another more sinister contaminant, benzene—for the Department of the Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps to take steps to close the contaminated wells. Benzene is a known carcinogen and is also linked to various disorders in the blood and reproductive effects.

In July 1984, test data from another contractor indicated that a well in the Hadnot Point Industrial Area had a benzene level of 380-parts per billion (ppb). The current maximum contaminant level allowed in drinking water is 5 ppb.

Between November 1984 and February 1985, ten wells at Camp Lejeune, including Hadnot Point’s well, were shut down and taken out of service due to contamination with volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Later assessments showed that leaks in underground tanks installed in the 1940s and 1950s contributed to the contamination.

A 1997 report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) stated: “Volatile organic compound (VOC) levels in three base drinking water systems (Tarawa Terrace, Hadnot Point, and Holcombe Boulevard) were a health concern until 1985 when use of contaminated wells stopped….Human exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and 1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE) in drinking water systems at MCB Camp Lejeune have been documented over a period of 34 months, but likely occurred for a longer period of time, perhaps as long as 30 years.”

This report failed to address, however, the known benzene contamination. The ATSDR later acknowledged the error.

Health Effects of Contaminated Water Exposure

Studies of people exposed occupationally or environmentally to TCE, PCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene link these chemicals to a higher risk of the following health issues:

  • Cancer (kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bladder cancer, leukemia, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, rectal cancer, brain cancer, soft tissue cancer)
  • Cardiac effects
  • Neurologic effects (visual perception, attention, and memory problems)
  • Birth defects, low birth weight
  • Neural tube birth defects
  • Miscarriage
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Scleroderma
  • Impaired immune system function
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Liver cirrhosis

National Research Council (NRC) Investigates Water Contamination

To help inform decisions about addressing health claims, Congress directed the U.S. Navy in 2007 to ask the National Research Council (NRC) to examine any health outcomes associated with the past contamination of the water supply at Camp Lejeune. The NRC assembled a committee of environmental scientists, toxicologists, epidemiologists, and biostatisticians to review the evidence.

In 2009, the NRC published its report, entitled “Contaminated Water Supplies at Cam Lejeune—Assessing the Potential Health Effects.” The report’s main conclusion was that it could not “determine reliably whether diseases and disorders experienced by former residents and workers at Camp Lejeune are associated with their exposure to contaminants in the water supply” because of limitations in the available studies.

The NRC concluded that there was “no scientific justification” for the Navy and Marine Corps to wait for more information before making decisions on how to respond to the issue.

Marine Corps Glosses Over Its Responsibilities to Veterans and Their Families

In July 2010, the U.S. Marine Corps published a glossy booklet that provided questions and answers regarding Camp Lejeune’s drinking water history. The U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, noted in September 2010 that this booklet was misleading in several regards.

For one, the booklet stated that “studies to date” had not shown any causal link between exposure to contaminated water and illnesses. However, the ATSDR had informed the Marine Corps on September 10, 2010, that these statements were incorrect and that ATSDR scientists had found an association between the two.

One of those was between chemical contaminants and cancers and other health outcomes. The ATSDR recommended that the Marine Corps booklet should report on these findings and state that research on other illnesses was still underway.

The booklet also used several arguments to explain why the military failed to immediately shut down water wells they knew were contaminated. Authorities waited until researchers identified the “source” of the contamination. The booklet didn’t explain why they didn’t do so beforehand.

The military also stated that the chemicals in the water, at that time, were not regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, so it had no obligation or legal responsibility to close them.

The Camp Lejeune Act of 2012

On July 18, 2012, Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. It granted specific benefits related to the water contamination issue.

Specifically, the new law made any veteran who served on active duty at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for at least 30 days between January 1, 1957, and December 31, 1987, and their family members, eligible for hospital care and medical services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Applicants qualified for the benefits if they suffered from any of 15 listed cancers and other illnesses or conditions, “notwithstanding insufficient medical evidence to conclude that the illness or condition is attributable to such service.”

For individuals with one of the 15 medical conditions presumed to be related to exposure, there was no charge for care.

Qualifying health conditions include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

This law applied, however, only to health care and not disability compensation. Family members, as well, had to exhaust “all possible claims and remedies against a third party before the VA provision of such care and services.”

VA Publishes New Rule to Make It Easier to Obtain Disability Benefits

In January 2017, the VA published a new rule that made it easier for veterans, reservists, and National Guard members to obtain disability benefits if they suffered from one of eight diseases associated with the contaminated water.

This rule provided that those who served at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days during the period between 1953 and 1987, and who had been diagnosed with any of the eight associated diseases, would be entitled to VA benefits.

The eight diseases included:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Adult leukemia
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer

Conditions not included in this rule were:

  • Scleroderma
  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Renal toxicity
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Female infertility or miscarriage

Veterans experiencing other health conditions they believed might be related to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune were encouraged to file a claim with the VA.

Too Many Claims for VA Benefits Denied

These laws seemed to provide veterans and their families with ways to obtain no-fee medical care for Camp Lejeune-related injuries.

But investigations into the VA’s approval of claims related to Camp Lejeune water contamination have revealed troubling findings concerning the number of claims that have been denied.

In 2018, an investigation by NY1, an American cable news television channel, revealed that the VA denies 89 percent of disability claims where there is “evidence of an association with the contaminants in the water” at Camp Lejeune. That’s nearly nine out of 10 veterans’ claims that are denied.

A later investigation by CBS News found that the VA started using “subject matter experts” to review these claims starting in 2012. Some of these doctors lacked expertise in relevant medical fields.

According to government transcripts and documents obtained by CBS News, the rate of disability claim approvals plummeted from an already low 25 percent to 5 percent after the VA started using these experts.

The VA disputed these rates and provided CBS News with a year-by-year breakdown of approval rates from 2011 to 2019. The numbers still showed approval rates dropping dramatically after the VA began using subject matter experts to review these claims in 2012.

In 2013, the approval rate fell to 4.5 percent. From 2014 to 2016, it dropped even further to 1 percent. The VA noted that the overall rate of approval for Camp Lejeune claims now averages 17 percent.

The VA uses the following reasons to deny claims:

  • Lack of certainty regarding qualified service
  • Uncertainty surrounding positive disease diagnosis
  • Incomplete or faulty claim preparation

Many veterans will win Camp Lejeune benefits only after several rounds of appeals.

Victims Previously Prevented from Pursuing Justice

Estimates are that around 750,000 people were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between the 1950s and 1980s. Thousands of those may have developed related health conditions and may have died because of that exposure.

Unfortunately, victims’ attempts to find justice have failed. Several hundred filed civil lawsuits seeking to hold the U.S. Government liable and to gain the compensation they needed for medical care and disability.

Around 850 of these lawsuits were consolidated into multidistrict litigation in 2011 in the Northern District of Georgia. But in 2016, U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash dismissed them all. He ruled that North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose (like a statute of limitations) applied to the plaintiff’s claims.

This dismissal led to public outrage, as it left thousands of innocent victims without legal recourse for their injuries.

Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022

A new Congressional bill seeks to create an exception for those who served and worked at Camp Lejeune during the time of water contamination.

On September 24, 2020, five Democrats and four Republicans drafted and co-sponsored a bipartisan bill that would allow a two-year window for certain individuals to sue and recover damages for harm from exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.

Called the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, the bill was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 3, 2022. At the time of this writing, it had moved on to the U.S. Senate for approval.

Should the bill become law, those who were exposed to contaminated drinking water during the appropriate times will be able to file claims for damages against the United States Government. Plaintiffs will need to provide evidence that they were exposed for at least 30 days to Camp Lejeune drinking water between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.

Plaintiffs will also need to establish a connection between their illness and the contaminated water. This will likely require the testimony of a medical expert who can explain how the condition may have been caused, at least in part, by exposure to the toxic chemicals in the water.

The bill will also allow the representative of a person who was exposed to the contaminated water and later passed away due to conditions developed as a result of that exposure to file a claim.

Any award given to a claimant or legal representative of a claimant will be offset by the amount of any payment, benefits, or disability awarded previously for the same condition by the VA or Medicare.

Finally, the bill would determine that all Camp Lejeune lawsuits be filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Why Do I Need a Lawyer for My Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Claim?

The Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyers at Chaffin Luhana are handling claims on behalf of those who meet the requirements for a water contamination claim and seek to file a claim through the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022.