Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps base in North Carolina that was contaminated with polluted water for over 30 years. As a result, many veterans and civilians have been affected by the toxic chemicals found in the water.
In this blog post, we will explore how Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water has affected the lives of veterans and civilians who lived there, how it’s possible to prevent similar situations from happening again, what survivors can do if they were exposed, what you can do if you think your loved ones might be impacted by Camp Lejeune’s tainted water system, and more.
History of Camp Lejeune
Camp Lejeune was established in 1941 and has been the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast for over 70 years. It’s also a major training center for Marines and other armed forces members.
Located in Jacksonville, North Carolina, just south of Wilmington, Camp Lejeune is home to more than 20,000 active-duty personnel (not including family members) and several hundred retired military veterans who live there permanently or visit often.
In 1942 it became one of only two amphibious bases in existence. During World War II, it served as headquarters for all American amphibious operations. Later on, it was used for testing new weapons technology, such as rocket launchers. Then came Vietnam. The list goes on.
When the Problem Started
In the 1950s, a dry cleaning plant was built on Camp Lejeune and began using trichloroethylene (TCE) to clean uniforms. In the late 1970s, tests revealed that groundwater at the base had been contaminated with chemicals, including TCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TCE is a known carcinogen, and exposure to the chemical may be harmful. The level of exposure depends on the duration, dose, and work being done.
And the National Cancer Institute states that exposure to benzene amplifies the risk of cancers like leukemia and other blood disorders. The main sources of exposure to benzene are gasoline, cigarette smoke, cleaning products, paint strippers, adhesives, and glues.
The Marine Corps knew about this problem at least as far back as 1981 but did not inform residents until 1990. However, they were aware of studies linking contamination from industrial sites like dry cleaners with an increased risk for leukemia and other cancers among people who drank contaminated water or breathed air near such sites.
The Cover-up of the Issue by the Marine Corps and EPA
The Marine Corps and its contractors failed to take adequate steps to identify, assess and address contamination at the base until after 1984. They actively concealed information about contamination from employees at Camp Lejeune and residents by falsely claiming there was no danger in drinking water from on-base wells.
The Marine Corps and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t do enough to fix the problem when it was first discovered in 1984. Even after discovering high levels of toxic chemicals like benzene in nearby wells (including those used for drinking water), neither agency took sufficient action until decades later.
Declaring the Camp a Hazardous Site
The EPA declared the camp a Superfund site in 2012, meaning it was contaminated with hazardous waste and required extensive cleanup. The contamination was also a result of negligence by the Marine Corps, who had failed to properly maintain their equipment or monitor its use while filling their tanks with tap water from wells on base.
The EPA has estimated that over 1 million people were exposed over several decades, making this one of our country’s largest cases of environmental injustice ever recorded.
Symptoms of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
The symptoms of Camp Lejeune water contamination can be severe and long-lasting. In addition to kidney, liver, and thyroid diseases, the following cancers have been linked to this exposure:
- Kidney cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Multiple myeloma
WECT reported that the incidence of kidney cancer for personnel at Camp Lejeune was 35% higher than at another base camp at Pendleton. Esophageal cancer was 43% higher, liver cancer was 42% higher, and cervical cancer was 33% higher. Multiple myeloma cases were 68% higher at Camp Lejeune, and cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma were 47% higher.
Camp Lejeune Lawsuit
The Camp Lejeune lawsuit was filed in 2013, and it’s still pending. It is one of the biggest lawsuits in US history, seeking damages for personal injury and loss of property at Camp Lejeune.
The suit names the federal government, military and corporate defendants as responsible parties for releasing toxic chemicals into the drinking water supply over several decades.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for those who were exposed at Camp Lejeune between 1957 and 1987 when base officials knew about it but didn’t warn residents or make any efforts to prevent further exposure until 1987, when they finally closed down wells that were contaminated.
The effects of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune are far-reaching, and they will impact the lives of those who were stationed there for years to come. We hope that by bringing these stories to light, we can raise awareness about what happened and prevent similar incidents from happening again in the future.