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camp lejeune water contamination

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination: Everything You Should Know

In a 34-year period, it is estimated that some 900,000 veterans, family members, and nearby civilians were impacted by contamination in the water at Camp Lejeune. 

In recent years Camp Lejeune water contamination has become a major issue, and more facts come to light daily.

In 1985, scientists suggested that a toxic chemical called TCE, an organic solvent, was found in water at Camp Lejeune. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that TCE was a “human carcinogen” in 2003.

Around the same time, researchers also became aware of an increased rate of birth defects in the Camp Lejeune region. As more time passes, more health problems from water at Camp Lejeune get discovered.

Read on to learn more about the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. 

U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina 

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s location is in Onslow County in southeastern North Carolina. The camp came to be in 1940 when the US government decided its location was ideal for a new Marine training base.

The location, near two deep water ports, also had a partner location in Cherry Point for aviation. 

Camp Lejeune is one of the largest military facilities in the US, including:

  •  450 miles of roads
  • 6,946 buildings and facilities
  • A population of approximately 137,526 marines, sailors, retirees, their families, and civilian employees
  • 153,439 acres
  • 14 miles of beach on the Atlantic Ocean

Camp Lejeune runs various training, including entry-level and career-level formal schools. The location boasts the largest concentration of both marines and sailors anywhere in the world through its:

  • Various satellite camps
  • Housing
  • Training areas
  • New River Air Station 

Whether a marine or sailor is about to get sent aboard or is seasoned military personnel, they will likely spend some time at Camp Lejeune. 

History of Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

Camp Lejeune, in more recent years, has become notorious for its vast water contamination issue. Back in the early 1980s, Camp Lejeune was found to have two contaminated wells of water supplying water to the base. 

These wells had water from the water systems supplied by the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water-treatment plants. The water was found to hold the contaminants of industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE).

Sadly, the water from these wells served a large population in and around the base, including:

  • Enlisted-family housing
  • Barracks for unmarried service personnel
  • Base administrative offices
  • Schools
  • Recreational areas
  • The base hospital
  • An industrial area
  • Housing on the Holcomb Boulevard water system 

Some scientists call this the worst public water contamination in history because of the long period of time for exposure. 

Camp Lejeune contaminated water dates go back as far as 1943, with eligibility for benefits going from  August 1953 through December 1987.

Exposure Assessment

As scientists became more aware of the magnitude of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, it became more critical to study the impact this would have on the region. 

Scientists participate in something called an exposure assessment. An exposure assessment is the qualitative or quantitative determination or estimation of the impact, including:

  • Magnitude
  • Frequency
  • Duration
  • Rate of exposure

It’s essential to understand the exposures that occurred for the overall population and the individual water-use patterns of this population.

Part of the exposure assessment involves identifying what contaminants are concerning, the source of those contaminants, and the concentration of the contaminants in any particular water supply over the time period in question.

Scientists also studied how the base population might have had exposure to water contamination at home, work, and other settings. This might have occurred through water consumption, dermal contact, and inhalation of volatile compounds.

This helped scientists to understand the exposure risk and how it impacted the population during this time.

Studying the Population from Camp Lejeune

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has extensively studied the Camp Lejeune region to understand the impact on the population.

They performed a historical reconstruction and models to see the concentrations of the chemical contaminants. 

Studies have included the military population during the time of contamination. This includes a large number since this population tends to be transient, coming to the base and leaving.

Benefits get based on just 30 consecutive days at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River.

Of particular interest in these studies were children and those in utero during the time period. More information on risks for family members and their benefits later. 

Water-Supply Contamination

Part of the study of toxic water at Camp Lejeune was to look carefully at the water supply. Eight different water distribution systems have been a source of water for Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. These include:

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

The Tarawa Terrace, Hadnot Point, and Holcomb Boulevard water supply systems contained contaminated water. Tarawa Terrace began operation in 1952, Hadnot Point in 1943, and Holcomb Boulevard in 1972.

The three water distribution systems, Tarawa Terrace, Hadnot Point, and Holcomb Boulevard, were historically responsible for supplying finished water to the family housing on the base. 

It’s important to understand how the contamination occurred and how this water got distributed. Each of the contaminated water systems had multiple wells. The water-supply wells would collect groundwater and send it to the water treatment center. 

At each of these locations, only certain had contamination. When those wells got used, the contaminated water got sent to the water treatment center. 

The problem was that the water was not only contaminated but also mixed with water from uncontaminated wells before being sent as the water supply to the base. 

Let’s take a closer look at some specifics about each water supply system in question.

Tarawa Terrace

The Tarawa Terrace began operation in 1952 and shut down in March 1987.

In historical studies, the Tarawa Terrace water distribution system was studied. Studies of this Tarawa Terrace included:

  • Off-base dry cleaner
  • On-base operations
  • Operation of water-supply wells
  • Water-treatment plants
  • Water-monitoring data
  • Groundwater flow
  • Other relevant data

The primary contaminant present at Tarawa Terrace was PCE. In February of 1985, the PCE levels were at their highest in drinking water at 215 parts per billion (ppb). Acceptable levels of PCE in drinking water should be at 5ppb. 

It’s believed the source of the contamination for this system came from an off-base dry cleaner, ABC One-Hour Cleaners.

When the ATSDR studied the historical data from Tarawa Terrace, the levels of ppb exceeded the allowed limit for a total of 346 months during November 1957-February 1987.

This water system provided water mainly for Tarawa Terrace family housing and Knox Trailer Park. 

Hadnot Point

Hadnot Point water system has not had an ATSDR historical study. Yet, they used site descriptions, laboratory reports, documentation of supply-water sampling, and results of monitoring groundwater wells to understand the contamination exposure best. 

Hadnot Point began servicing water in 1942, and is complicated because it had multiple contaminants impacting the water. 

The main contaminant was TCE (trichloroethylene). The legal limits of TCE are five ppb for drinking water. In May of 1982, the levels of TCE found at Hadnot Point were 1,400 ppb in the drinking water. 

In addition to the TCE found, other contaminants include:

  • PCE (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene)
  • DCE (trans-1,2-dichloroethylene)
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Benzene

It’s believed the main sources of contamination came from waste disposal sites and leaking underground storage tanks. 

The Hadnot Point water system serviced: 

  • Mainside barracks
  • Family housing at Midway Park, Paradise Point, and Berkeley Manor
  • Hospital Point family housing

By February of 1985, most of the contaminated wells found in Hadnot Point had been shut down.

Holcomb Boulevard

 Holcomb Boulevard began servicing water in June 1972. The ATSDR didn’t initially include Holcomb Boulevard as part of their historical studies. 

After the completion of the studies done by ATSDR, it was discovered that Holcomb Boulevard received contaminated water from Hadnot Point over four years. 

For much of the time of operation at Holcomb Boulevard, the water wasn’t contaminated. However, when the system was shut down, it received water from Hadnot Point, which had high levels of contamination. 

Holcomb Boulevard got water from Hadnot Point when the plant was shut down from January 27 to February 7, 1985. When water demand was high, demand was high (1972-1985) during the dry spring and summer months. Hadnot Point water was also sent to Holcomb Boulevard. 

Holcomb Boulevard water system serviced family housing at:

  • Midway Park
  • Paradise Point
  • Berkeley Manor
  • Watkins Village

It also serviced Tarawa Terrace family housing after March 1987.

Water-Use Patterns and Behavior

When studying the contamination of the water and its likely impact, scientists must also consider the component of human behavior.

This includes water consumption, showering, bathing, washing dishes, and laundry. This is from too long ago for those potentially impacted to provide accurate information. 

However, self-reported water usage information is being used by the ATSDR in their study of evaluating birth defects and childhood cancers which are such a huge part of the water contamination problem from Camp Lejeune. 

Contaminated water didn’t just serve living quarters; it also serviced areas like schools, workplaces, recreational areas, and a hospital. So, exposure may have occurred from being in these places, yet it would be different than the exposure from residential areas. 

It’s easy to understand how complex it might be to know how many people were impacted by the water contamination and how to effectively get them compensation if they became ill.

Contaminants Found in Camp Lejeune Water

In 1982, when the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune was discovered, more studies started to break down exactly what contaminants existed. These specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Two main VOCs found in the water were from a dry cleaning solvent and a degreaser from leading storage tanks.

As more studies were done on the water, it’s estimated that over 70 different chemicals were present in the contaminated water—each of these with potential risk to the health of those exposed to them. 

The main chemicals found included:

  • Trichloroethylene and Perchloroethylene
  • Benzene
  • Toluene
  • Vinyl Chloride
  • Other Contaminants

Let’s take a closer look at these main chemicals and their impact on those exposed. 

Trichloroethylene and Perchloroethylene

Trichloroethylene and Perchloroethylene or TCE and PCE were the main contaminants in the water systems at Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point. 

The levels were excessively beyond the legal and safe limits for exposure and consumption. 

TCE and PCE are believed to cause several different types of cancers. This includes:

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

TCE is also associated with cervical cancer, multiple myeloma, prostate, laryngeal, and colon cancers.

For those doing dry cleaning and laundry work, which frequently uses the chemicals of TCE and PCE, there’s an association between kidney, pancreatic, cervical, esophageal, and lung cancers. Some association is also connected to bladder, prostate, and colon cancers.

Benzene

The chemical benzene was also present, especially in Hadnot Point water. This chemical is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature.

Interestingly, benzene will quickly evaporate in the air. Yet, it won’t fully dissolve in water. It dissolves slightly and then sits on the surface of the water. 

Benzene is commonly used to make:

  • Plastics
  • Resins
  • Nylon and synthetic fibers
  • Lubricants
  • Rubbers
  • Dyes
  • Detergents
  • Drugs
  • Pesticides

In the case of Camp Lejeune, it’s believed that the benzene leaked from underground storage tanks or hazardous waste sites, which then contaminated the well water. 

Long-term exposure to benzene can lead to:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Decrease in the size of their ovaries
  • Low birth weights
  • Delayed bone formation
  • Bone marrow damage when pregnant 

It’s been determined by the Department of Health and Human Services that benzene causes cancers like leukemia and cancer of the blood-forming organs. 

Toluene

Toluene is another contaminant that is commonly found in water. It is a colorless liquid that will evaporate quickly from the air. 

Toulene is commonly used in degreasers, a known contaminant from Camp Lejeune. It’s also widely used in oil refining and manufacturing paints, lacquers, explosives (TNT), and glues.

Toluene is believed to be harmful in causing certain cancers, including lung, breast, esophagus, stomach, colon, and cancer of the rectum.

Workers with contact and high exposure to toluene have also shown a higher than normal risk of lymphosarcoma, lymph leukemia, and Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Vinyl Chloride

Polyvinyl chloride is commonly used in plastics production and can cause up to five times higher cancer rates in the liver, angiosarcoma, and lungs.

While vinyl chloride is commonly used in various ways, it’s also widely known as an animal and human carcinogen.

The chemical is highly dangerous for the liver and can cause rare forms of liver cancer. It’s also known to cause hepatocellular carcinoma, a common cancer found in connection to vinyl chloride exposure. 

Other Contaminants

Camp Lejeune water showed signs of many contaminants. The previous contaminants listed here were shown to be at high levels, causing dangerous exposures. 

Yet, many other toxins and contaminants were present in the water beyond this list. These have also been shown to be highly carcinogenic.

Some of those toxins include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Heavy metals
  • Pesticides
  • Assorted  polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

It’s important to note that if you have a particular form of cancer, you should seek legal advice. It’s important for the lawyer to consider all research connections between potential toxins and carcinogens you might have had exposure to when seeking help on your behalf. 

Evaluation of Health Effects

As the issues with the Camp Lejeune water became more well known, the illnesses connected to the water became more widely known. 

The ATSDR began studies considering the impact of TCE and PCE, the two most widely known carcinogens. They started with scientific data available and compared it to the illnesses and Camp Lejeune water contamination deaths. 

The studies looked at the information in various ways to see how each data group’s information aligned. Their studies included:

  • Toxicologic experiments with the solvents in laboratory animals
  • Studies of the Camp Lejeune population
  • Epidemiologic studies of workers and communities exposed to TCE, PCE, and mixed solvents

To be comprehensive, the studies were looked at separately for information. Then again, together to help to identify the help concerns that represented areas of most significant concern.

Epidemiologic Evidence

Using a scheme developed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the data from all studies were divided into five different categories to help them identify the association between chemicals and various health outcomes. 

The five areas included:

  • Limited/suggestive evidence of no association
  • Inadequate/insufficient evidence to determine whether an association exists
  • Limited/suggestive evidence of an association
  • Sufficient evidence of an association and sufficient evidence of a causal relationship

Of all the data and scientific literature studied for TCE and PCE, only the first two on the list were used to help remove the possibility of a connection without any doubt.

The studies found at least limited evidence of an association for the following:

  • Cancers of the breast, bladder, kidneys, esophagus, and lungs
  • Hepatic steatosis and acute tubular necrosis related to chronic exposure at high concentrations
  • Acute glomerulonephritis
  • A potential association with male infertility
  • Association between solvents in general and reduced female fecundability (the ability to conceive)
  • Association between principally inhalation exposure to solvents and Camp Lejeune water contamination neurological effects neurobehavioral outcomes
  • Chronic glomerulonephritis and scleroderma

Each of these connections is related primarily to the study of TCE and PCE exposures.

Exposure Estimates of the Toxicologic and Epidemiologic Evidence

As studies on the impact of the chemicals found at Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River proceed, one important factor is exposure. These are the important questions that scientists must consider:

  • How many contaminants were potentially present?
  • How much exposure might have occurred for a soldier or their family?
  • How long did that exposure continue?

It seems simplistic, but in some cases, the exposures were very high and presented an even greater risk for illness. Other exposures were likely relatively low. 

For study purposes, the ATSDR used the descriptors high exposure and low exposure. Studies looked at the average estimated intake that might have occurred at Camp Lejeune and found these adverse health outcomes:

  • Renal toxicity
  • Renal cancers
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Immune-related health effects

The studies considered the community as well. It’s difficult to sync the community data and the Camp Lejeune data since so much of the Camp Lejeune population was transient and lived there for varying periods. 

SFC Heath Robinson PACT Act of 2022 and the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 is found within the SFC Heath Robinson PACT Act of 2022.  As of July 18, 2022, this legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and should be voted on by the U.S. Senate in late July or early August.   

While not fast enough for many, the US Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges the connection between contaminants, specifically in water at Camp Lejeune.

The law passed in 2012 addresses 15 specific illnesses and required the US Department of Veterans Affairs to reimburse Camp Lejeune Family Members for eligible health care costs for the recognized illnesses.

Veterans and family members are also eligible for benefits. They need to have been at Camp Lejeune in utero between January 1, 1957, and December 31, 1987.

The list of presumptive illnesses includes:

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

The VA doesn’t cover healthcare benefits for family members. But it does reimburse for out-of-pocket expenses from the list of illnesses. 

Eligibility for Benefits

If you were at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 cumulative days from August 1953 through December 1987 and have become ill with one of a list of cancers and other illnesses, you may be eligible for disability benefits. 

One requirement of the VA is that you can’t have been dishonorably discharged when you left the military. 

If you were at either of these locations during the window of time and have become ill but don’t see your specific illnesses on the list, you should still seek assistance from an experienced attorney to evaluate your case.

Veterans, reservists, and guardsmen are all eligible for disability benefits.  

Presumptive Conditions from Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Veterans, Reservists, and National Guard members have a list of 8 presumptive illnesses that will qualify them for benefits. 

Here’s a short list of some of the illnesses that would qualify you for disability benefits:

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

It’s important to note the word presumptive. The veteran would only need to show they were at Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River during the specific dates and for the minimum number of required days to be eligible for benefits. 

 Before applying, the veteran must show a current diagnosis of one of the eight presumptive illnesses to get approved for benefits. 

Family Member With Presumptive Conditions

Family members at Camp Lejeune or in utero during the set time period also qualify if they are ill with one of the illnesses on the presumptive conditions. 

A family member (or veteran) who is suffering from one of the presumptive illnesses is not eligible for presumptive disability compensation.

If, however, they have past out-of-pocket costs due to medical care related to one of the presumptive illnesses, they can get reimbursed. This might include healthcare such as co-pays or deductibles that were paid out-of-pocket. 

How Do Family Members Get Benefits?

It’s important to know which family members are also eligible for benefits. Here are the VA qualifying criteria for family members:

  • The spouse or dependent of a veteran who was on active duty and served at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987;
  • Those who lived on the base for 30 days or more between the same dates; and/or
  • Infants born of women pregnant on the base during this period.

Family members who are applying will need to show:

  • A document proving your relationship to the veteran who served on active duty for at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune, which might include a marriage license, birth certificate, or adoption papers
  • A document proving that you lived at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 days from August 1953 through December 1987 
  • Medical records showing you have one of the presumptive conditions listed as well as the date the illness was diagnosed and that you’re undergoing treatment

It might save you some time and hassles to seek out the Camp Lejeune Family Member Program Treating Physician Report (VA Form 10-10068b).

VA Rule 38 CFR 3

 Effective March 14, 2017, VA Rule 38 CFR 3 went into effect. This new rule did a few important things for those suffering. 

First, it added several presumptive illnesses to the list already in place for veterans and their family members. This, again, also makes former reservists and National Guard members eligible too. 

It’s important to note that if you’re a veteran with one of the presumptive illnesses, you should still apply for full benefits through the VA. There may be a way to get you disability coverage. 

Veterans have a list of eight illnesses that will not require documentation if they were at Camp Lejeune during the specified time period. 

The presumptive illnesses, both veterans and family members will need medical documentation.

Again, if you were at Camp Lejeune during this time period and are suffering any type of illness, it makes sense to pursue compensation and disability. You may need the help of an attorney who knows the VA and Camp Lejeune illnesses. 

Filing a Camp Lejeune Claim

If you or a family member is ill, you deserve compensation. Knowing the steps to file a claim with the VA for benefits is important. Benefits can include healthcare coverage and compensation for out-of-pocket expenses.

You can file a claim by going to any of the following:

  • File a claim online on VA.gov
  • Get help from an accredited representative, like a Veterans service officer (VSO)
  • Get help at a VA regional office

Be prepared to provide the following:

  • Military records showing you served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 days from August 1953 through December 1987 while on active duty or in the National Guard or Reserves
  • Medical records stating that you have one (or more) of the eight illnesses 

It’s important when applying to note that you’re applying for one or more of the presumed Camp Lejeune illnesses. You’ll get asked for medical documentation so that you can send it in right away, too. 

Is the Water at Camp Lejeune Safe Now?

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River remains an important and bustling military installation for the US government. Currently, the base population looks like this:

  • Active Duty 38,778
  • Family Members 38,769
  • Civilian 3,349
  • Retirees and Family Members 18,719

The US Marine Corps says the water at Camp Lejeune has been safe since March 1987. It continues to get tested quarterly.

Get the Help You Need With Your Camp Lejeune Claim

The water contamination issue at Camp Lejeune is so complex. If you’re suffering an illness and were associated with Camp Lejeune during the years of toxins and contamination, you need to get help from an attorney. 

You might wonder why you need help if the VA pays for benefits. It’s often more complicated, and you may be eligible to file a lawsuit for additional compensation, depending on your situation. 

The Overholt Law Firm and their team of attoneys are experienced in handling water contamination cases. They will know how to help you with your claim and get you the benefits you deserve. 

Know Your Rights from Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Camp Lejeune water contamination is a scar in US military history that those serving their country would be exposed to, making them much more inclined to illness. Those serving and their families deserved better. 

You can then get the help you need if you face an illness from Camp Lejeune water contamination. Contact us today to speak with one of our attorneys about how we can help you.

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