“Thirty-four years of people were exposed to toxins in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), the sponsor of the recently passed Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. “Anybody who served in the United States Marine Corps, and went for combat training, probably went to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.”
Cartwright’s bill covers those exposed to contaminated water at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that almost a million Marines and civilians were potentially exposed during these critical years.
What Toxic Exposure Occurred at Camp Lejeune?
According to research by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the Marine Corps learned of the presence of volatile organic compounds in the drinking water provided by two treatment plants on the base in 1982.
One water treatment plant was polluted by PCE (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene) from an off-base dry-cleaning business. The other plant was found to contain PCE as well as TCE (trichloroethylene) and benzene, the contamination coming from leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites
The Marine Corps shut down the most contaminated wells in February 1985, but the ATSDR said that anyone exposed to the water before then had a “likely increased” risk of kidney cancer, multiple myeloma, and leukemia, as well as of “adverse birth outcomes and other adverse health effects.”
In 2017, CBS News reported that veterans groups had collected documents indicating that Marine Corps officials didn’t respond quickly enough to the evidence in the 1980s that water at Camp Lejeune was polluted.
“The Marine Corps has said the contamination was unintentional, occurring when federal law didn’t limit toxins in drinking water,” the CBS report stated.
To underscore the importance of his proposed bill, Cartwright said the people who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune in the fifties through the late eighties “were exposed to toxins at levels as high as 400 times the maximum safe level, things like benzene, known carcinogens, and at least eight different kinds of cancers.”
An ATSDR study confirmed that the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune increased the risk of childhood cancers and serious birth defects like spina bifida.
What Has Been the Result of Toxic Exposure at Camp Lejeune?
In addition to the Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune, their families and the civilians employed there were exposed to the water on the base from 1953 through 1987.
Michael Kirby, the son of a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in the late 1950s, lost both of his parents to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 1996, he was also diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After he underwent six years of cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and several surgeries, his brother was diagnosed with the same cancer in 2017.
“We never had any cancer in our family history until Camp Lejeune,” Kirby said.
Along with cancers and other diseases, birth defects have been reported.
One Marine’s wife who had lived at the base for two years became pregnant in 1986. The day after a visit to the doctor confirmed her baby boy was doing well and would be born soon, Audrey Williams Pride unexpectedly gave birth to a stillborn child. The doctor had no explanation for the sudden change in the health of the fetus, but Pride later learned that the water at Camp Lejeune was known to contain carcinogenic compounds that can affect the fetus.
“I just want some type of justice,” Pride said. “I’m 60 years old. Will the government ever say, ‘I’m sorry’? Will I live to hear ‘I’m sorry’?”
How We Help Victims of Camp Lejeune
With a national presence and a wealth of experience litigating water contamination cases, Waters Kraus Paul & Siegel 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.