Camp Lejeune: What You Need to Know

Sep 2, 2022 | Other

Person holding flask with contaminated water

Camp Lejeune is a military base located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. After many years, and now lawsuits appearing due to contaminated water at the base, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Below we’ll break down what you need to know about the Camp Lejeune lawsuits and what happened from the contaminated water.

Why Was There Water Contamination on Camp Lejeune?

The water contamination began in 1953 at the Camp’s Hadnot Point water treatment facility but eventually spread to other surrounding water facilities. According to the U.S Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the water contamination at Camp Lejeune primarily and originally came from “the waste disposal practices at ABC One-Hour cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning firm.” 

ATSDR also claims that some of the pollutants in the water came from “leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites” that contaminated water distributed from a nearby water treatment facility that fed into the Camp. Some of the contamination was shown to have come from the operations at the base itself. Further contaminants were shown to have come from several off-base sites

What Specific Toxicities Existed in the Camp Lejeune Water?

Water testing at the Camp has revealed that the drinking water was contaminated with “staggering” amounts of benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (also known as “perchloroethylene” or PCE,) and vinyl chloride (VC), “all of which are known to be [cancer causing] […] and/or harmful to humans.”

TCE was the main contaminant at the Hadnot Point water treatment facility, at 1,400 parts per billion (ppb) in May 1982. By contrast, the current limit for TCE in drinking water is 5 ppb. PCE was the main contaminant at the Tarawa water treatment facility at 215 ppb in 1985. The current limit for PCE in drinking water is 5 ppb.

What Specific Medical Conditions are Caused by Exposure to These Toxic Chemicals?

According to the National Law Review, the following conditions may have been caused by using the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, adult leukemia, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, aplastic anemia, and other myelodysplastic syndromes, breast cancer, bladder cancer, oral cancer, tongue cancer, tonsil cancer, scleroderma, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, renal toxicity, hepatic steatosis, female infertility, and miscarriage.

Medical studies have also related many negative behavioral effects to contact with the water at Camp Lejeune, including symptoms of tiredness, lack of coordination, headaches, trouble concentrating, depression, and weakening of both the body’s fine and general motor function. 

What Are The Allegations?

The allegation is that the government was negligent in its water testing. The lawsuits will have to overcome their burden by showing that there was a breach of that duty of care for the people who were consuming the water. 

There is also a possible allegation of a duty to warn Camp residents as in 1982, the Marine Corps “discovered specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water provided by two of the eight water treatment plants on base.” The site was then closed three years later in 1985.

What Is Covered for Those Diagnosed With These Medical Conditions?

Despite the hurdles for expert testimony, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 presumes that veterans can “receive disability and health care benefits for eight […] disease conditions [assumed to be] associated with contaminants in the water at Camp Lejeune,” including 1) adult leukemia, 2) aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, 3) bladder cancer, 4) kidney cancer, 5) liver cancer, 6) multiple myeloma, 7) non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and 8) Parkinson’s Disease.

Also, the VA considers 15 other qualifying conditions that are covered under the 2012 Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act, ranging from female infertility and cancer to behavioral effects. This list is not conclusive due to the fact that the PACT Act does not explicitly state what conditions have a claim in the lawsuits. 

Who is Covered Under The PACT Act?

An individual, including veterans and their families (as defined in section 101 of title 38, United States Code), or the legal representative of such an individual, who resided, worked, or was otherwise exposed (including exposure while in utero) for not less than 30 days during the period beginning on August 1, 1953, and ending on December 31, 1987, to water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that was supplied by, or on behalf of, the United States. 

What is Covered?

On the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs website it states that individuals may be eligible if they, or their family member have received one or more of the following diagnoses:

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

 

In making a proper claim against the U.S Government harms from residing or visiting Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days include but are not limited to the above 8 conditions. According to the Act, qualifying service members and their families can receive “relief for harm that was caused by exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune.” The above word ”harm’ could be broadly understood to cover a wide range of conditions where one could reasonably prove the contaminated drinking water caused the harm(s) suffered. 

The Obama Administration’s Previous Camp Lejeune Action:

President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 into law. This Act also has a 30-day stay requirement and covers service members who were stationed at the Camp from January 1, 1957, through December 31, 1987. This Act simply provided reimbursement for medical care shouldered by veterans and their families who were stationed at the Camp and allowed the service members themselves to begin receiving healthcare benefits from the  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In early 2017, the Obama administration agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who had been exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune. These people were expected to apply for these benefits themselves. This rule states that diseases associated with exposure to toxins in the water supply at Camp Lejeune will be assumed to have come from or have been worsened by service at Camp Lejeune. This assumption applies even if there is no evidence of an illness from toxic drinking water during the period of service. Further, the rule states that if someone had been exposed to the drinking water at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more, then several diseases that the person may suffer from shall be considered service-connected. This assumption applies even if there is no record of such disease during service–subject to some exceptions. These diseases include kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, adult leukemia, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, and bladder cancer. 

Is There a Cap on Damages from Contaminated Water Lawsuits at Camp Lejeune?

There is no cap, but there will be no punitive damages (extra money awarded to the injured party to punish the defendant) allowed. If the VA has already awarded you compensation or if you have already been compensated for disability/harm related to Camp Lejeune, then you will not be able to sue for that money that’s already in your pocket. For example, if you already received kidney cancer disability benefits from the VA connected to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, you may only sue for the money that you have yet to receive to make you whole again. 

Does A Family History of Cancer Matter?

Yes. Not only is there a questionable link between cancer and TCE exposure, but it is also important that expert testimony is able to directly link any claimed harm to their Camp Lejeune TCE exposure. It is therefore predictable that defense counsel would use this lack of a direct link to cast doubt on any claims of cancer stemming from Camp Lejeune. 

The findings of human studies were not sufficiently consistent to draw any firm conclusions about infertility, but a few studies showed a potential association with male infertility, and there was a suggestion of an association between solvents in general and reduced female fecundability (the ability to conceive). The epidemiologic evidence provides some indication that solvent exposure during but not before pregnancy is associated with increased risk of miscarriage but not with preterm birth or reduced birth weight, and there is no direct evidence on pre- and post-birth death. The epidemiologic evidence on paternal exposure to TCE and infertility was inadequate/insufficient to determine whether an association exists. 

Human evidence on chronic exposure to TCE or PCE and the risk of birth defects was also judged to be inadequate to support conclusions about associations. Overall, there was limited/suggestive evidence of an association between principally inhalation exposure to solvents and behavioral outcomes, with the most support for effects on visual and motor function, fatigue, headache, and limitations in concentration; most of these effects were reported along with exposure, and there has been little study of whether effects persist after exposure ceases. Epidemiologic studies have provided some support for two immunologically mediated outcomes—chronic glomerulonephritis and scleroderma. In each case, there is limited/suggestive evidence of an association with mixed solvent exposure and, for scleroderma, some indication of an association specifically with TCE.

Metabolism of TCE and PCE in rodents is qualitatively similar to that in humans but is quantitatively different and results in greater susceptibility of rodents to these compounds. Other studies revealed that rodent liver, kidney, and lung cells are more sensitive than equivalent human cells. Toxicologic studies reported adverse effects on indicators of male fertility in rats and mice exposed to TCE and PCE, respectively, at high doses, but there was little evidence of female infertility even at high concentrations. The toxicologic data constitute strong evidence that neither solvent is associated with congenital malformations in rats.

For noncancer outcomes, some convergence was found for toxic effects on the liver and kidneys of rodents and humans. Rodents exposed to high concentrations of TCE and PCE exhibited liver damage and kidney tubular-cell damage. Epidemiologic studies also found limited/suggestive evidence of an association with liver steatosis (fatty accumulation in the liver) and sensitive measures of acute kidney tubular necrosis. Such damage was associated with chronic high-level exposure to solvents but not with chronic low-level exposure.

What Factors Would be a Barrier to Recovery for a Potential Client?

Comorbidities or pre-existing conditions are always going to be a problem in a case where a plaintiff attempts to find causation in their case. The history of cancer is just one of the many diseases that are going to be tough to link without considerable leg work from an expert. 

Geoff McDonald and Associates: 804-888-8888.

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