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symptoms of camp lejeune water contamination

Symptoms of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

In 1982, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) discovered Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in some of the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, NC.

While the USMC shut down most of the contaminated wells by 1985, the issue is believed to have started as far back as the early 1950s. That means that for more than three decades, as many as one million military and civilian staff members, as well as their families, could have been exposed to the water.  

If you lived or worked on base during this timeframe, then you may be experiencing symptoms of Camp Lejeune water contamination. This applies even if you were only there for a short duration. 

Today, we’re sharing some of the most common illnesses linked to VOC exposure, as well as their prominent symptoms. We’ll also explain how our legal team can help you file a claim and fight for your rights today. 

A Brief Background on Camp Lejeune’s Water Contamination Issue

During the period in question, there were eight individual water distribution systems at Camp Lejeune. These systems supplied finished water to family housing on the base, as well as other facilities located on the grounds. These plants systems included:

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

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which operates under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explains that only three out of these eight systems contained contaminated water.

Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace both contained prominent VOCs within their wells. These plants delivered water to a variety of locations around the base, including the mainside barracks and family housing units.

While the wells at Holcomb Boulevard were not directly affected, this location relied on Hadnot Point as a backup source of drinking water during the dry spring and summer months. At that time, demand peaked and well supplies were low, so supplemental sources were necessary.  

The system at Holcomb Boulevard supplied water to family housing at various points on base including:

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

All residents and visitors at those locations could have been exposed to VOCs during high-demand periods. In addition, the Holcomb Boulevard plant briefly shut down from January 27, 1985, to February 7, 1985. At that time, Hadnot Point supplied all of the water for those housing units. 

A Breakdown of Chemicals Found

While there were many different VOCs found at all three water treatment plants, some were more prominent at certain locations than others. It’s important to understand what these chemicals entailed (and the dangers they exhibited) before reaching out to an attorney.

The primary contaminant at the Hadnot Point plant was trichloroethylene, or TCE. In addition, scientists also discovered other chemicals in the drinking water, including:

  • Perchloroethylene (PCE)
  • Dichloroethylene (DCE)
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Benzene

The primary contaminant at the Tarawa Terrace plant was PCE. While these chemical names can be difficult to pronounce, it’s likely that you’ve encountered them in your everyday life. Let’s take a look at some of their most common uses.

What Is TCE?

TCE is a volatile and colorless liquid that does not occur naturally. Rather, it’s the byproduct of chemical synthesis. TCE is a primary component in many commercial refrigerants, as well as other hydrofluorocarbons. 

It can also act as a degreasing solvent for metal components, and you can find it in a variety of household products, such as:

  • Cleaning wipes
  • Aerosol cleaning sprays 
  • Paint removers
  • Tool cleaners
  • Spray glues and adhesives
  • Spot removers
  • Carpet cleaners

Once TCE enters the air, water, or soil, it will continue to break down slowly over time. According to the National Cancer Institute, prolonged or repeated exposure to the chemical can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Liver cancer

The Environmenal Protection Agency (EPA”) sets limits on the percentages of certain chemicals that can safely exist in drinking water. These are known as Maximum Contaminant Levels. 

The standard for TCE is five parts per billion (ppb). In 1982, the USMC detected the maximum TCE level at the Hadnot Point plant at Camp Lejeune. At that time, the level was 1,400 ppb. 

TCE Points of Origin

The ATSDR determined that TCE entered the drinking water at Hadnot Point at myriad different entry points. This exposure is linked to different on-base activities during that time, including:

  • Oil spills at industrial sites
  • Leaks from underground storage tanks and drum dumps
  • Open storage pits
  • Fire training areas
  • Fuel-tank sludge areas
  • Industrial fly-ash humps
  • Transformer storage lots

As these sites generated waste, workers would discard it in adjacent natural areas, including forests, waterways, and fields. Once there, it would travel downward and eventually reach sea level, entering water wells and contaminating military barracks and housing units.  

What Is PCE?

PCE is a type of solvent. It’s primarily used in dry-cleaning facilities. Like TCE, there is no evidence that it occurs naturally and it was introduced into the environment by human activities. 

Companies also use PCE as a degreaser on metal parts, and you can find it in everything from shoe polish to typewriter correction fluid. It’s a common ingredient in adhesives, spot removers, and paint removers. 

Even at very low concentrations, PCE is toxic to humans. If you experience an acute, or short-term, exposure to high concentrations of the chemical, then you may experience the following:

  • Damage to your central nervous system
  • Difficulty walking or speaking
  • Unconsciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting 

Long-term, or chronic exposure, can result in the following conditions:

  • Skin irritation
  • Dizziness and fatigue
  • Headache
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Menstrual problems 

In addition, PCE is categorized as a reasonably anticipated carcinogen. This means that scientists know that it can cause tumors to form in mice. Therefore, it could potentially cause cancer in a human.

This is especially the case if the individual was exposed to high levels of PCE for a sustained amount of time, which occurred at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period. The most common types of cancer associated with PCE include:

  • Lung cancer
  • Colon/rectum cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Bladder cancer

The EPA set the Maximum Contaminant Level for PCE at five ppb. According to the ATSDR, the maximum PCE level detected in drinking water at Tarawa Terrace was 215 ppb. It reached this level in February of 1985. 

PCE Points of Origin

While the TCE contamination at Hadnot Point had various sources, the PCE contamination at the Tarawa Terrace plant had one primary point of origin: ABC One-Hour Cleaners, located approximately two miles southeast of Camp Lejeune.

This was the primary dry-cleaning facility that the USMC used to clean military uniforms. According to court documents, ABC One-House Cleaners used a significant amount of cleaning solvent on a monthly basis. Specifically, the company generated two to three 55-gallon drums of the solution, making about three gallons of waste per day. 

Once the cleaning process was complete, the owners or workers would dispose of the water. Sometimes, they would use it to fill potholes, though they usually just poured it into nearby storm drains. When this happened, it entered the groundwater system on the base.

What Is DCE?

The technical name for DCE is 1,2-dichloroethane. It is a clear and colorless liquid that is very flammable.

Like the other chemicals on this list, it doesn’t occur naturally. Instead, DCE emits during chemical production and is also a byproduct of waste streams. When it enters the water, a degrades slowly and a large percentage of it evaporates, leaving only a small amount for plants and animals to intake. 

Manufacturers use DCE to make vinyl chloride, another contaminant found in drinking water at Camp Lejeune. They also use the chemical as a solvent, and it has been used in the past as an additive for leaded gasoline. 

DCE is toxic, and exposure to large amounts of it can leave you feeling dizzy and lightheaded. Repeated or long-term exposure could damage your following bodily systems:

  • Nervous system
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Kidneys

What Is Vinyl Chloride?

Manufacturers use vinyl chloride to make various different kinds of plastics, as well as vinyl products. It’s a colorless, flammable gas that can help produce a variety of goods, such as:

  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes
  • Wire coatings
  • Vehicle upholsteries
  • Plastic utensils and kitchenware

Most of the time, vinyl chloride poisoning occurs when people breathe in contaminated air. As military staff and family used the on-base water supply to shower, cook, or do laundry, then it entered the air through those processes. In addition, those individuals also drank and cooked with the contaminated water. 

Vinyl chloride is a very toxic chemical. After several years of ongoing exposure, you might experience the following conditions:

  • Nervous system damages
  • Immune system damages and changes
  • A decline in bone strength (specifically in fingers, joints, and arms)

In addition, anyone exposed to vinyl chloride may also be at a heightened risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as liver or lung cancer. It can also have a detrimental effect on the following bodily systems:

  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Kidney
  • Spleen 
  • Nervous system
  • Circulatory system 

What Is Benzene?

Benzene can be a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. Extremely flammable, it evaporates quickly once it enters the air. In water, it dissolves slightly and can float on top.

Unlike the other contaminants, benzene can occur naturally, though it is also created as a result of human activities. In nature, you can find it in combustible spaces, including volcanoes and forest fires. It’s also a natural component of various substances, including:

  • Gasoline
  • Crude oil
  • Cigarette smoke

In manufacturing, companies can use benzene to create a number of other different chemicals. Then, they use those chemicals to develop a range of products that include:

  • Plastics
  • Rubbers
  • Resins
  • Nylon fibers
  • Synthetic fibers
  • Lubricants
  • Dyes and detergents
  • Pesticides 

Areas such as gas stations can contain low levels of benzene in their outdoor air. Indoors, it can contaminate the air when inhaled in close range, through the use of products such as glues, paints, and furniture waxes. 

If you ingest large levels of benzene, you may develop the following symptoms within just a few minutes:

  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors and convulsions
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vomiting and stomach irritation 

Benzene can harm the quality and substance of your bone marrow and can also lower your red blood cell count. When this happens, you can develop anemia

Beneze exposure can also cause women to experience irregular menstrual cycles, and could even lessen the size of their ovaries. In animal studies, scientists have found that it can also lead to lower birth weights, as well as delayed bone formation. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), benzene can also cause cancer in humans. 

The type of cancer most closely associated with benzene is leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood-forming tissues and organs. 

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Health Issues

These four chemicals weren’t just found in the water at Camp Lejeune. Personnel from the USMC discovered that they were found in astronomically high percentages on base. In some cases, the percentages were 3,400 times higher than the standards allow. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) acknowledges that there is a link between exposure to these known contaminants during military service and the onset of certain diseases down the road. This is known as a service connection. 

In the winter of 2017, the VA finalized its list of presumptive conditions associated with the Camp Lejeune water contamination years. In order to qualify for a presumptive service condition, veterans must have served on the base for at least 30 days between August 1, 1954, and December 1, 1987. The service member may be disqualified if they worked at the location during that timeframe but received a dishonorable discharge when they separated from the military. 

The list of conditions includes:

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

Not sure if you are suffering from any of these conditions? Let’s take a look at each one in greater detail.

Adult Leukemia

Adult leukemia is a type of cancer. It occurs when your bone marrow makes a significant quantity of abnormal blood cells. There are different types of adult-onset leukemia, including:

  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)

Some of the most common symptoms associated with adult leukemia include:

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Recurring infections
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Bleeding easily
  • Bruising easily 

These symptoms may vary depending on the specific type of adult leukemia you have. A physician can perform a complete evaluation to evaluate your symptoms and provide a professional diagnosis. Four of the most common types of treatments for adult leukemia include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Bone marrow transplants

Aplastic Anemia 

Aplastic anemia is a rare health condition. It occurs as a result of bone marrow damage and causes your body to stop producing an adequate number of new blood cells. When this happens, your systems cannot function normally. 

While this condition can occur at birth, it’s most commonly the result of exposure to toxic chemicals, chemotherapy, or certain drugs. Some of the most common symptoms associated with aplastic anemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Recurring infections
  • Rapid heart rate

This condition can develop rapidly or slowly, over a long period of time. It can also be mild to severe in nature. Some of the most common treatments for aplastic anemia include:

  • Blood transplants
  • Bone marrow transplants
  • Immune system treatments
  • Medicines to stimulate new blood cell formation

Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer occurs when the cells that comprise your urinary bladder begin to grow out of control. As these cells continue to develop, they can cluster into a tumor. In time, this disease can spread to other parts of your body. 

The most common types of bladder cancer include:

  • Urothelial carcinoma (transitional cell carcinoma)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Small cell carcinoma
  • Sarcoma 

This cancer can be non-invasive, meaning that it’s only present in the inner layer of your cells and hasn’t grown into the deepest layers. When it becomes invasive, it’s more likely to spread and can also be more difficult to treat.

Some of the earliest signs of bladder cancer are:

  • Blood in your urine (a condition called hematuria)
  • Changes in bladder habits (e.g. the urge to urinate more often)
  • Symptoms of bladder irritation (e.g. pain or burning)

As the disease progresses, you may notice other symptoms, such as:

  • An inability to urinate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lower back pain (usually isolated to one side)
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Bone pain
  • Swelling in the feet

There are some drugs and medicines designed to help treat bladder cancer. Other forms of treatment include:

  • Tumor removal surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Stem cell transplant
  • Bone marrow transplant 

Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that begins in your kidney cells. Also known as renal cancer, it occurs when the healthy cells in your kidneys begin to grow out of control. As with bladder cancer, this excessive growth can result in a mass of cells, called a lump. 

The most common forms of kidney cancer include:

  • Renal cell carcinoma
  • Clear cell renal cell carcinoma

There are other, less-prominent forms that include Papillary renal cell carcinoma (PRCC) and Translocation renal cell carcinoma (TRCC). These most often occur in children, teenagers, and young adults. 

Most people don’t exhibit signs or symptoms of kidney cancer in its earliest stages. In fact, many patients don’t even realize they’re suffering from the condition until they visit their physician for another health complaint, such as gastrointestinal issues. Then, an abdominal imaging test will reveal the presence of the tumor(s). 

As the disease continues to progress, you may develop the following symptoms:

  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain in your lower back 
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats 
  • Fever
  • Fatigue 
  • A lump in your lower back
  • A lump on the side of your waist

Note that scientists have discovered a link between the onset of kidney cancer and the development of kidney disease. If you already suffer from kidney disease, then you could be at a greater risk of developing kidney cancer over time. 

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain in the lower back
  • A lump in the lower back or side of the waist
  • Unexplained weight loss, night sweats, fever, or fatigue​

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is one of the fastest-growing types of cancer in the country.

There are two different types of this condition: primary liver cancer and secondary liver cancer. Primary liver cancer begins in your liver and is isolated there. Secondary liver cancer starts elsewhere within your body and eventually spreads to your liver. 

Within primary liver cancer, there are four main types. These include:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC, most common)
  • Intrahepatic cancer (IHC, cancer in your liver’s bile ducts)
  • Angiosarcoma (very rare, begins in the lining of your liver’s blood cells)

As with kidney cancer, most people don’t exhibit many physical signs when they’re in the early stages of liver cancer. Over time, you may develop the following symptoms as the disease progresses:

  • A lump below your rib cage
  • Pain on the right side of your abdomen
  • Pain near your right shoulder
  • Jaundice (a condition that causes your skin and eyes to yellow).
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue and weaknesses 
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Dark-colored urine

While liver cancer can be a daunting diagnosis, there are several different types of treatments available to help patients suffering from HCC or ICC. These include:

  • Surgery to remove a portion of the liver
  • Liver transplants
  • Hepatic arterial embolization
  • Liver ablation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy 

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that forms in a specific type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. It’s also known as Kahler’s disease.

Your body needs healthy plasma cells to make antibodies that can recognize germs and help ward off infections. With this condition, cancerous plasma cells begin to grow and accumulate in your bone marrow. This crowds out the healthy plasma cells so they can’t flourish and do their job effectively. 

Not only do these cancerous cells not produce antibodies, but they also produce abnormal proteins that complicate your internal makeup. Often, the signs of multiple myeloma go undetected in their earliest stages. Once detected, your physician may not recommend treatment right away, especially if the cancer is slow-growing. 

As the disease progresses, you may notice the onset of certain symptoms, such as:

  • Bone pain (usually in your spine or chest)
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Recurring infections
  • Weakness in your legs

Some of the standard treatment options for multiple myeloma include:

  • Bone marrow transplants
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Corticosteroids (to control inflammation)

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of disease that causes cancer cells to form throughout your lymphatic system. This includes the lymph nodes and tissues founds in organs such as your:

  • Stomach
  • Intestines
  • Skin

A valuable part of your immune system, your lymphatic system is responsible for maintaining healthy fluid levels in your body. It removes all of the fluids that leak out of your blood vessels, allowing the formation of general and specific immune responses.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma isn’t just one type of cancer. Rather, it encompasses a large group of blood cancers that all share one common trait: They originate in lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells found in the immune system.  

You may have cancerous lymphoma cells in just one part of your body, or they could be spread throughout your body. Some of the most common types include:

  • Aggressive lymphomas (quickly advancing with aggressive symptoms)
  • Indolent lymphomas (slowly advancing, usually without early symptoms)
  • Burkitt lymphoma (the most aggressive and fastest-growing, but very rare)

Symptoms of aggressive lymphomas include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Weight loss 
  • Night sweats
  • Nausea 
  • Fever
  • Bone pain
  • Skin issues 

Symptoms of indolent lymphomas can vary. They include:

  • Swelling in one or more lymph nodes 
  • Unexplained fever
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in chest
  • Pain in abdomen
  • Acute night sweats
  • Severe fatigue 
  • Constantly feeling bloated
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Skin irritation 

While Burkitt lymphoma is the rarest form, it’s still important to know the warning signs to look out for. A few of the most prevalent ones include:

  • Swelling or pain in the abdomen
  • Night sweats 
  • Facial bone inflammation or distortion
  • Enlarged thyroid
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Intestinal obstruction 

Treatments to Note

In most cases, physicians will treat Non-Hodgkin lymphoma via one of the following methods:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Stem cell transplants

If the tumor is small and your doctor can remove the entirety of it in a biopsy, then you may not require any additional forms of treatment. 

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that affects your central nervous system. It impedes your ability to perform basic movements and often causes uncontrollable tremors in your hands, arms, legs, or head. This can lead to the following:

  • Shaking
  • Stiffness
  • Imbalance
  • Uncoordination

With most patients, the symptoms begin gradually and are mild at first. Then, they become more pronounced and severe over time. Eventually, it can overtake your ability to walk and talk on your own. 

In addition to those physical changes, some of the other common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Mental changes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Memory loss
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Slow movements
  • Fatigue
  • Urinary tract issues
  • Constipation
  • Skin irritation 

In most cases, the symptoms will begin on one side of the patient’s body. While they will eventually spread to the other side, patients usually feel that they are more pronounced on one side than the other. 

While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are medicines, surgeries, and other types of treatment that can help. These include:

  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Dopamine agonists
  • Enzyme inhibitors
  • Anticholinergic drugs (to reduce tremors)
  • Physical, occupational, and speech therapy
  • Massage therapy

Other Health Conditions Associated With Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

In addition to the eight conditions detailed above, the VA also recognizes other qualifying conditions that may be linked to water contamination at Camp Lejeune.

On August 6, 2012, then-president Barack Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (Camp Lejeune Act) into law

In part, this law provides medical care for military veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water while they were stationed on the base. If you’re eligible to receive healthcare under this law, then you may enroll in VA healthcare services and receive treatment for the covered conditions. 

In all, there are 15 health concerns categorized as qualifying conditions under the Camp Lejeune Act. These include:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

Service members could qualify to receive medical treatments for these conditions at no cost, including copays. In addition, family members of veterans who also resided at Camp Lejeune during the water contamination period are likewise eligible. 

The VA should reimburse their out-of-pocket medical expenses if the symptoms they’re exhibiting are related to any of the 15 covered health conditions on that list. Your physician can help you understand if the signs you’re exhibiting are related to any of the listed conditions. If you’re still paying for those costs on your own, then you could have grounds for legal action

Do You Have Symptoms of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of Camp Lejeune water contamination, contact your primary care provider and then call our office. Once you confirm your diagnosis, we’ll help you start investigating your claim.

The Overholt Law Firm, PC and their team of attorneys have experience experience with the water contamination issue at Camp Lejeune and we created a guide and checklist to walk you through the steps required to file a claim, simplifying the process as much as possible. 

We’re here to help you discuss your options so you can get the compensation you deserve. Ready to get started? Contact us today to get started.

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