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Camp Lejeune Water Contamination and Prostate Cancer

From the early 1950s to 1985, the drinking water supply at the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Camp Lejeune, NC was contaminated with volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). During this time, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) estimates that upward of one million people could have been exposed to toxic, carcinogenic contaminants. 

These chemicals have known health effects, and are linked to various medical conditions and diseases. This includes certain types of cancers, such as prostate cancer. 

Today, we’re taking a closer look at the Camp Lejeune water contamination prostate cancer link and sharing how to seek compensation for the treatment you need. If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer and you spent time at Camp Lejeune during this time period, the two instances could be connected. 

A Quick History of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Let’s start with a quick overview of what the Camp Lejeune water contamination issue entails. During the time period, there were eight water treatment plants in operation on the base. These included:

  • Hadnot Point
  • Tarawa Terrace
  • Holcomb Boulevard
  • Courthouse Bay
  • Rifle Range
  • Onslow Beach
  • Montford Point/Camp Johnson
  • New River

Of those, three plants are known to have contained VOCs: Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard. All of the systems contributed to the finished water supply at Camp Lejeune. The water went to family housing, as well as other facilities.

The source of the contamination varied. Let’s take a look at a brief breakdown of how it occurred and what it affected. 

Hadnot Point

The water treatment plant at Hadnot Point began operation in 1942. It served the mainside barracks, as well as family housing at the following locations:

  • Hospital Point
  • Midway Park
  • Paradise Point 
  • Berkeley Manor

The ATSDR discovered elevated levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) in the water at Hadnot Point. This is a common industrial solvent used primarily for degreasing metal parts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for TCE at five parts per billion (ppb). 

In May 1982, the level of TCE at the Hadnot Point water treatment plant was recorded at 1,400 ppb. Other contaminants found in the water included:

  • Perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
  • Trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE)
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Benzene

Manufacturers use vinyl chloride to produce another substance, called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Then, they can use PVC to make a range of plastic products, including pipes, packaging materials, and wire/cable coatings.

Beneze is a solvent used during chemical and pharmaceutical production. The colorless liquid is highly flammable and toxic to humans. 

There is no one source that the agency can trace this contamination back to. Rather, it’s believed to have occurred in various locations around the base, including leaks in underground storage tanks, as well as improperly managed waste disposal sites. The government shut down most of the contaminated wells by February 1985. 

Tarawa Terrace

Like Hadnot Point, the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant also served family housing at Camp Lejeune. This plant began operation in 1952 and provided water to the following locations:

  • Tarawa Terrace family housing
  • Knox trailer park

The most prevalent VOC located at this plant was PCE. This is another type of widely used industrial solvent, used mostly in dry cleaning, textile processing, and metal cleaning processes. 

Like TCE, the EPA has set an MCL for PCE at five ppb. In February 1985, the levels of PCE at the Tarawa Terrace plant reached 215 ppb. The ATSDR was able to trace the source of this particular contamination back to the ABC One-Hour Cleaners, a dry-cleaning firm located off-base.

The military relied on the facility to clean uniforms, but the waste disposal processes performed there were not up to standards. ABC One-Hour Cleaners created two to three 55-gallon drums of cleaning solvent per month. Once they finished using the solvent, they would dispose of it. 

Most of the time, this meant simply pouring the used water into storm drains, where it could easily enter the groundwater system and travel into the base. The government shut down most of the contaminated wells at Tarawa Terrace by February 1985. 

Holcomb Boulevard

Unlike those at Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace, the wells at Holcomb Boulevard were not generally contaminated by VOCs. However, they were compromised due to the way the three water treatment plants were linked. 

This plant began operation in June 1972, and provided water to the following family housing locations:

  • Midway Park
  • Paradise Point
  • Berkeley Manor
  • Watkins Village
  • Tarawa Terrace (after March 1987)

From 1972 to 1985, the Holcomb Boulevard plant would supplement its own water supply with water from the Hadnot Point plant. It did so during periods of peak demand, which usually occurred during the spring and summer months. In addition, the Hadnot Point plant completely served Holcomb Boulevard units from January 27, 1985, to February 7, 1985, when the Holcomb Boulevard plant was temporarily closed.

You can learn more about the complete history of this contamination issue in our recent post

The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination and Cancer

The chemicals that contaminated the water supply at Camp Lejeune are carcinogenic. This means that they are known to have the potential to cause cancer. Of all of the VOCs discovered in the water, the three most highly concentrated chemicals were TCE, PCE, and benzene. 

Federal government agencies, including the Department of Defense, have performed extensive testing to understand the long-term health effects that this contamination could have inflicted on residents and employees who spent time on base during these periods. These agencies have also performed scientific studies and research to determine the extent of this connection. 

As a result of this examination, they’ve determined that individuals exposed to the contaminated water are at a greater risk of developing certain kinds of cancers and diseases. 

In this post, we’re specifically looking at the link between the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and the onset of prostate cancer. Anyone exposed to the toxic chemicals during this time period could have been affected, including:

  • Former marines
  • Families of marines
  • Civilian employees

Whether you lived on the base for only a short while or took up residence in a long-term housing facility, the risk is still there. Let’s take a closer look at the link between prostate cancer and the VOCs found on the base. 

Prostate Cancer and VOCs

On January 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its final rule on presumptive service connections associated with the Camp Lejeune water contamination.

This final rule updated the agency’s initial list, adding certain diseases associated with contaminants that were present in the base water supply at Camp Lejeune from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987. You can read the final rule in its entirety on the Federal Register.

In the original rule, the VA determined that veterans, former reservists, and former National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days (consecutive or nonconsecutive) during this period could be entitled to certain VA benefits. To qualify for these benefits, you must have been diagnosed with any of the following eight associated diseases:

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

The VA presumes that service personnel (and family members) could have incurred or aggravated these diseases while in service. In response to this ruling, the agency received 53 comments.

These commenters were requesting to expand the list of presumptive conditions to include miscellaneous health issues and disabilities, both specified and unspecified. The list of newly proposed conditions was long and included conditions from diabetes mellitus and depression to neurologic disorders, sleep apnea, and many more. It also included prostate cancer. 

Ultimately, the VA ruled against expanding its list beyond the initially-stated eight conditions. However, new research emerging from the ASTDR is building credible evidence for a link between many types of cancer (including prostate cancer) and the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. 

Much of this evidence can be traced back to the ATSDR’s ongoing Health Studies Activities. Let’s review these in greater detail. 

ATSDR Health Studies

The ATSDR has performed multiple Health Studies to determine whether individuals exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune at their workplace or residence are more susceptible to developing certain types of cancers. This includes both Marines/Navy personnel as well as civilian employees.

The different studies conducted include:

  • Cancer Incidence Study
  • Male Breast Cancer Study
  • Adverse Birth Outcomes Study
  • Mortality Study of Civilian Employees
  • Mortality Study of Marine and Naval Personnel
  • Birth Defects and Childhood Cancers Study

You can read the details of each study on the ATSDR’s FAQ page

For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing a majority of our discussion on findings from the Mortality Study of Marine and Naval Personnel. To conduct this research, the ATSDR looked at Marines/Naval personnel who started service at Camp Lejeune from 1975 to 1985 and were stationed there at any point during that time period. In addition, they also investigated civilian employees who worked on base at any time between October 1972 and December 1985.

As a control and comparison, the researchers compared their findings against a group from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The personnel there did not consume water contaminated with VOCs.  

Mortality Study of Marine and Naval Personnel

As mentioned, one of the studies conducted by the ATSDR is the Mortality Study of Marine and Naval Personnel.

The agency conducted this study to determine if Marine and Naval personnel exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune are at a higher risk of mortality from certain cancers and chronic diseases.  

In the study, the ATSDR closely examined the causes of death for 154,932 on-base residents who began service between 1975 and 1985. At the same time, researchers also evaluated the causes of death for 154,969 on-base residents who served at Camp Pendleton during that same time period. 

Other than the fact that the residents at Camp Pendleton were not exposed to contaminated water, the two groups are relatively the same. The cause of death data spanned from 1979 to 2008 and was obtained from the National Center for Health Statistics National Death Index (NDI).

This study examined all of the underlying causes of death associated with one or more of the VOCs found in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. The ATSDR selected these causes based on research and literature reviews conducted by its internal staff, as well as the following agencies:

  • The EPA
  • The National Toxicology Program (NTP)
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

Causes of Death Studied

The different causes of death determined to be possibly linked to VOC exposure included:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Hematopoietic cancers (e.g. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemias, Multiple sclerosis)
  • Non-cancerous kidney diseases
  • Non-cancerous liver diseases
  • Multiple sclerosis

In addition, the study also included multiple types of cancers, including cancer that affects the following regions:

  • Bladder
  • Brain
  • Cervix
  • Colon
  • Esophagus
  • Female breast tissue
  • Kidney
  • Larynx 
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Oral cavity
  • Pancreas
  • Prostate
  • Rectum
  • Soft tissue 

Results of the ATSDR Mortality Study

During the time period studied (1979 to 2008), there were 644 deaths in the Camp Lejeune group and 869 deaths in the Camp Pendleton group. The median age for the cohorts was 58 years at Camp Lejeune and 60 years at Camp Pendleton. 

Compared to the Camp Pendleton control group, the ATSDR discovered that the Camp Lejeune group had higher mortality rates for the following causes of death: 

  • Cancers of the female breast, kidney, lung, oral cavity, prostate, and rectum
  • Kidney diseases
  • Leukemias
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Parkinson’s disease

The higher rates of kidney, prostate, and rectum cancers, as well as leukemias and Parkinson’s disease, were mainly concentrated among Camp Lejeune civilian workers. Compared to short-term residents and personnel, these individuals were exposed to higher cumulative amounts of the contaminants over time. 

In all, the ATSDR found 10 cases of prostate cancer among the Camp Lejeune cohorts during this timeframe. Of those, eight were above the median cumulative exposure for the following VOCs:

  • TCE
  • PCE
  • Benzene

In addition, seven out of the 10 cases were above the median cumulative exposure for vinyl chloride and Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOC). Five of the 10 deaths due to prostate cancer in the Camp Lejeune cohort were African Americans. In comparison, the researchers did not identify deaths among African Americans in the Camp Pendleton cohort.

The ATSDR Cancer Incidence Study

Another important study to note is the ATSDR’s ongoing Cancer Incidence Study. This undertaking began in 2018 and is expected to take at least five years to complete. 

In this study, the agency is investigating Marines/Naval personnel who began serving at Camp Lejeune between 1975 and 1985 and were stationed on base for any amount of time during this period. They are also studying civilian employees who worked on base from October 1972 to December 1985. 

The goal of the Cancer Incidence Study is to understand whether residential or workplace exposures to VOCs in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune are associated with higher risks of certain cancers. In addition to other conditions and types of cancers, researchers are looking into the prevalence of prostate cancer in Marines/Navy personnel, as well as civilian employees. 

The ATSDR is obtaining information on the number of military personnel affected by these conditions through federal and state cancer registries. They are not contacting these subjects directly or individually. 

As you might imagine, these studies are complex and intricate. They are also time-consuming. Subjects are located all across the country, and the number of cancer registries is vast.

As such, the ATSDR explains that the full extent of the results won’t be available until 2023 at the earliest. Still, there are early findings that help explain the connection between water contamination and certain diseases, including prostate cancer. 

We expect that once its complete, findings from the Cancer Incidence Study will overlap somewhat with the results from the ATSDR Mortality Studies. However, this most recent research will help explain to which degree the Camp Lejeune water contamination increased the risk of specific types of cancers. 

Exposure to VOCs and Onset of Cancer: Other Research 

The findings of the ATSDR studies are promising. They provide a direct causal link between contamination exposure and the development of certain health conditions, including prostate cancer, later in life. 

These studies are in line with other research designed to prove that certain VOCs can lead to certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer. Below, we’ve outlined the findings of a few key studies.

National Cancer Institute

including information presented by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI explains that prolonged or repeated exposure to some chemicals, including TCE, may increase an individual’s risk of developing the following conditions:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Liver cancer

National Library of Medicine

In addition, the National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, has published an extensive Review of Epidemiologic Studies. These findings also support the connection between VOC exposure and cancer diagnoses. 

In 2003, the agency reviewed nine cohort studies that provided incidence and mortality data associating TCE with prostate cancer. Of these, five cohort studies assessed exposure to unspecified mixtures of VOCs and organic solvents and resulting incidences of prostatic cancer. 

In one of those studies, researchers reported that in 13 cases of exposed workers, the Standard Infection Ratio (SIR) was 1.38 persons. When analyzing workers with more than 20 years of exposure, the SIR jumped to 3.57. 

University of Washington

Going back a little further, we also have evidence from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that elevated levels of TCE could be linked to prostate cancer. 

In this study, researchers found that chronic, high-dose exposures to TCE can increase the forms of some cancer in certain species of rodents.

To conduct the study, they analyzed findings from four different cohort groups. One of the cohorts included civilian employees who worked for at least one year at an Air Force base in Utah from 1952 to 1956. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute conducted these samples, so they dubbed that cohort the NCI study.

This base used TCE as a solvent from the mid-1950s to 1979, with potential peak exposures of up to 400 ppm occurring in the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s, these levels dropped to 200 ppm, which is still much higher than the EPA’s MCL of five ppm. 

In all, there were 7,282 members in the NCI study. The other three remaining cohorts included:

  • Sweedish workers exposed to TCE between 1967 and 1975
  • Finnish workers exposed to TCE between 1965 and 1982
  • Employees at Hughes Aircraft in Tucson, Arizona, exposed to TCE between 1950 and 1985

There were 1,670 individuals in the Swedish cohort, 3,089 individuals in the Finnish cohort, and 4,733 individuals in the Arizona cohort. The researchers found that during the listed periods of TCE exposure, there were:

  • 281 cancer deaths in the NCI study
  • 125 cancer cases in the Hughes Aircraft cohort
  • 129 cancer cases in the Swedish cohort
  • 208 cancer cases in the Finnish cohort

Cancer-Related Research Findings 

Of the cancer deaths in the NCI study, 22 of them were prostate cancer. In addition, prostate cancer also accounted for the following number of cases in the other cohorts:

  • Hughes Aircraft cohort: 12 cases
  • Swedish cohort: 26 cases
  • Finnish cohort: 13 cases

It’s important to note that these findings aren’t necessarily linked to the research that the ATSDR is performing on Camp Lejeune. However, they do indicate a link between elevated TCE exposure and the onset of certain cancers, including prostate cancer.  

Signs and Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Researchers are still investigating the connection between prostate cancer and VOC exposure at Camp Lejeune. While they work to find a definitive link, it’s important to assess your health and monitor it for any new symptoms. 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that around 268,490 new cases of prostate cancer will occur by the end of 2022. The ACS also predicts that 34,500 men will die from prostate cancer this year alone.

With the exception of skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in American men. The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that produces seminal fluid in males. This is the fluid that nourishes and transports sperm.

Some forms of prostate cancer grow slowly over time and are contained to this gland alone. Other times, the cancer is more aggressive in nature and can quickly spread to other parts of your body.

In its early stages, you might not notice any signs or symptoms of this condition. This is especially the case if its form is mild and its contained to your prostate gland. Over time, you may experience the following health issues if it spreads and advances:

  • Difficulty urinating
  • Decreased urine flow
  • Blood in your urine
  • Blood in your semen
  • Bone pain
  • Weight loss
  • Erectile dysfunction

It’s important to visit your physician at the first onset of any of these symptoms. As with other forms of cancer, your chances of successful treatment are highest if you pursue early intervention. 

Risk Factors of Prostate Cancer

As mentioned, exposure to VOCs can increase your risk of developing prostate cancer. However, this isn’t the only cause of the condition.

Physicians know that this type of cancer begins when the cells in your prostate gland began to change. Their molecular DNA structure shifts and morphs. This is the structure that tells your cells what to do. 

As the DNA changes, it causes the cells in and around your prostate to grow and divide at a faster rate than normal. While other cells die, these abnormal cells continue to grow and thrive. In time, those adverse cells will begin to group together, forming a tumor.

This tumor can increase in size, causing it to invade adjacent tissues. While this is happening, some of the cells can also break away from the tumor and spread to other parts of your body. This is called metastasis.

Some of the known risk factors for prostate cancer include:

  • Older age
  • Race
  • Obesity
  • Family history

This type of cancer is most common in men over the age of 50. In addition, it also occurs more frequently in non-Hispanic Black men, as well as people who are obese. If one of your blood relatives has a history of prostate cancer, your risk may likewise increase. 

Treatment for Prostate Cancer

Before any symptoms of prostate cancer occur, your doctor can perform a few different screenings and imaging tests to determine your risk of developing this condition. These include Digital Rectal Exams (DREs) and Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) tests. 

If they detect an abnormality through one of these screenings, they can recommend further tests, including:

  • Ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Prostate tissue biopsy
  • Bone scan
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

Not only can these scans determine the scope of the cancer, but they can also show your doctor if the tumor has spread. This can help your doctor develop a diagnosis that describes the extent, or stage, of your condition. 

If your prostate cancer is low-grade, then you might not require treatment right away. Your doctor may recommend monitoring the condition via routine blood tests, rectal exams, and tissue biopsies.

If your cancer progresses over time, then you may undergo certain types of prostate cancer treatment. This includes surgery or radiation designed to shrink or remove the invading tumor.

Updates on the Camp Lejeune Justice Act

As we mentioned, the VA does not currently recognize prostate cancer as one of its eight presumptive conditions linked with the water contamination that occurred on base at Camp Lejeune. If you do suffer from any of those aforementioned illnesses, then you may be eligible to access certain VA benefits, including health care and treatment compensation. 

However, that doesn’t mean that you’re completely on your own if you develop prostate cancer following your exposure. Our law firm is dedicated to keeping you up to date on the latest Camp Lejeune water contamination news, and we’ll help you fight for your rights. 

One of the most important pieces of legislation to follow is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2021. It was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate in January 2022. In March 2022, the House voted 256 to 174 to pass the bill, which was encompassed in the greater Honoring our PACT Act of 2022.

Then, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 84 to 14 on June 16, 2022. Now, the bill is headed to the president’s desk, where it can become a federal law. If this happens, veterans, their families, and anyone else exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune will have two years to take legal action.

Understanding Your Legal Rights

To qualify for compensation in regard to your condition, you must be able to show that you were exposed to contaminated water on the base for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. If you plan to file a lawsuit on behalf of a loved one, then you must be able to provide evidence of their time at Camp Lejeune during the specified timeframe. 

In light of these developments, legal teams like ours are working diligently to assess potential Camp Lejeune lawsuit claims. Once the law passes, it will be easier for affected persons to move forward with a claim to receive the compensation they deserve.

While this process may seem complicated, we’re here to help you navigate every step. Our attorney specializes in these water contamination cases and can walk you through the exact process to follow. In addition, we can also help you file a lawsuit to fight for your rights when that time comes.  

Making the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Prostate Cancer Connection 

As shown in the studies shared here, there is a link between exposure to VOCs and the onset of certain cancers, including prostate cancer. Though the VA does not currently recognize this condition as qualifying for disability benefits, new legislation could affect that decision. 

If you believe that you may have sufficient grounds for a claim, our legal team can help you understand the Camp Lejeune water contamination prostate cancer connection. 

Our helpful guide and checklist details the steps to file a claim for yourself or a family member. Feel free to check it out and get in touch today! 

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