After years of facing illnesses and deaths that veterans were convinced were linked to toxic water contamination at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina, they finally can seek justice.
A new law that recently took effect allows victims of the water contamination to seek compensation from the government in federal court, a victory in a years-long battle on the part of military families who lost loved ones or suffered debilitating illnesses after being stationed at the base.
New Camp Lejeune Law Leads to Lawsuits
At least one person has already filed a lawsuit against the federal government, saying he developed cancer after serving at the base in the 1980s. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act was folded into broader legislation known as the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act to provide relief to veterans and their families who suffered as a result of the contamination.
The new law allows anyone who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune from Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987, to file a claim within a two-year window. Regardless of where they live now, they must have worked on the base for at least 30 days, have been exposed to Camp Lejeune contaminated water, and suffered injuries.
The Navy estimates that as many as a million people lived at Camp Lejeune when the drinking water was contaminated, and more than 4,500 later filed damage claims that were all denied by the secretary of the Navy in 2019. Many victims also filed federal lawsuits seeking compensation, but they were dismissed after a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in a separate case said a North Carolina law blocked damage claims against polluters in the state more than 10 years later.
Kitty Worthington of Hampstead, North Carolina, and her three siblings lived on base at Camp Lejeune for several years in the 1960s. Her two younger siblings were born on base, and both died of cancer by their 40th birthdays. A short time later, Worthington’s parents also died of cancer. The types of cancers they died of varied, but all have been linked to chemical contamination at Camp Lejeune.
“It’s about time that somebody stand up and start [taking] responsibility as to what they’ve done to families,” Worthington told WECT-TV Channel 6.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Camp Lejeune’s water contamination has been traced back to two of eight water treatment plants on the Marine Corps base. The oldest of the two plants, Hadnot Point, was contaminated after discarded oil and other chemicals seeped into the ground and into the water. The plant also had an underground storage tank that leaked, sending even more chemicals into the water supply. The second plant, Tarawa Terrace, was contaminated by solvents improperly discarded by the nearby, off-base dry-cleaning business.
For years, government officials knew, yet failed to publicly acknowledge that Camp Lejeune water was poisoned.
Records show the Marines dumped oil and industrial wastewater in storm drains. Potentially radioactive materials were buried, including carcasses of dogs used in testing. The base even located a daycare in a former malaria control shop where pesticides were mixed and stored. A significant source of water contamination was a nearby dry-cleaning business that for years dumped chemicals into drains.
Tests of the Camp Lejeune water and multiple reports starting in 1980 and beyond confirmed contamination, but nothing was done. The government relied on legal loopholes to avoid consequences until now.
Marines, their family members, and workers at Camp Lejeune ingested several types of toxins in the water known as volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. TCE and PCE are chemicals that are used in dry cleaning and in cleaning metal parts of machines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to manufacture plastics, resins, nylon, and synthetic fibers. Benzene also is used in some types of rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. It is known to cause cancer in humans.
Vinyl chloride is a manufactured substance that does not occur naturally. It can be formed when other substances such as TCE and PCE are broken down. It is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is used to make a variety of plastic products, including pipes, wire and cable coatings, and packaging materials.
The toxins found in Camp Lejeune’s water are known to cause many different diseases and conditions, including cancers, birth defects, and neurological disorders. The following are a few Camp Lejeune illnesses and conditions connected to the water contamination:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- All cancers
- Heart-related birth defects
- Multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells)
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
How We Help Victims of Camp Lejeune
With a national presence and a wealth of experience litigating water contamination cases, Waters Kraus & Paul has fought on behalf of individuals like you for 20 years, aggressively fighting to hold companies and governments responsible for failing to keep individuals safe. If you have suffered serious injury or cancer caused by toxic water at Camp Lejeune, we can help.