When Camp Lejeune was built at the mouth of the New River in North Carolina in 1941, it’s doubtful anyone could have predicted the environmental disaster that would impact nearly one million soldiers and their families who lived there. Located on 240 square miles of land with 14 miles of beaches, Camp Lejeune was considered an excellent location for amphibious warfare training.
However, countless soldiers and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1953 through 1987 were exposed to contaminated water; tainted with hazardous chemicals at concentration levels that far exceeded safety standards. In the years after leaving Camp Lejeune, many of these residents developed serious medical conditions believed to be caused by the contaminated water. As early as WWII, many military base personnel used chemicals and toxic substances and then disposed of them in ways that allowed for them to leech into the soil and water. Later, it was determined these chemicals posed a variety of health risks.
Although the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has made healthcare available to the victims of Camp Lejeune, and proposed regulations to establish presumptive service connections for eight medical conditions caused by the contaminated water, people still have many questions about the polluted water and the medical conditions suffered by so many who lived at the base.
Frequently Asked Questions About Camp Lejeune’s Water Contamination
The countless number of illnesses suffered by residents of Camp Lejeune and the investigation into the Marine Corp’s alleged cover-up of the water contamination generated a great deal of concern. Here are some of the most common questions about the environmental disaster there, and some general answers to those questions:
- What caused the water contamination? In the years prior to the construction of Camp Lejeune, trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) were safety solvents used as cleaning chemicals. These and other chemicals were found in the Camp Lejeune water and believed to be contributors to the contamination. Many believe there were three primary sources of contamination:
- Solvents used at a nearby dry-cleaning company were highly carcinogenic. Most of the soldiers used this company to get their uniforms cleaned. When the dry-cleaners disposed of the liquid waste, much of it was absorbed into the ground.
- Military personnel used TCE to clean its equipment and ensure that it functioned correctly. After washing greasy parts in the TCE, the chemical was dumped, likely leaching into the ground.
- Leaky underground fuel storage tanks leached TCE and PCE into the ground and into the aquifer that provided the base with water. Benzene from a fuel farm close by also leached into the soil. Vinyl chloride is also believed to be one of the contaminating chemicals.
- Are there other bases with water contamination? Camp Lejeune is not the only base with water or soil contamination. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), there are approximately 60 U.S. military bases known to have serious soil and water contamination. DoD officials say this list of contaminated military bases is based on a status report for its Installation Restoration Program. Other military sites that are toxic include:
- Kelly Air Force Base. Personnel allegedly dumped TCE into the soil here. Some people refer to this base as part of a “toxic triangle” in south-central Texas.
- Umatilla Chemical Depot. Located in the plains of northern Oregon, mustard gas and VX nerve gas were stored here.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families, as well as civilians who lived and worked in close proximity to these bases, may have been affected by these chemicals after drinking the water, using the water for bathing and doing dishes, and exposure through “vapor seepage.”
Research shows that many of these chemical compounds seeped into the ground water supply on several military bases and, in some cases, impacted properties near the bases, including schools, churches, and private wells.
- Is the water at Camp Lejeune safe now? A Marine Corp website states that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune currently meets or exceeds all government drinking water standards, including the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also indicates the water is tested more often than required.
- What is being done to guarantee the safety of Camp Lejeune water? The following three efforts are ongoing to ensure the water safety at the base: Water quality testing; compliance with current waste management regulations; and the cleanup of past hazardous waste sites.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) authorized the federal government to respond to hazardous waste released into the environment. Camp Lejeune complies with CERCLA with an active program to deal with past hazardous waste sites and groundwater contamination before it can affect the drinking water.
- What has been done to help victims of the water contamination? President Obama signed into law the Janey Ensminger Act to provide medical care for 15 illnesses and diseases caused by the contaminated water. Additionally, the VA has proposed regulations that would establish presumptive service connections for eight medical conditions caused by the contaminated water.
- What is a superfund site? This is any piece of land in the U.S. that the EPA has identified as being contaminated by hazardous waste and a “candidate” for cleanup due to its risk to human health and the environment. These superfund sites are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). Approximately 900 of these waste sites are abandoned military bases or facilities, including chemical warfare and research facilities and abandoned disposal pits.
We Can Help
If you’re a veteran, member of the Reserves, or a member of the National Guard assigned to Camp Lejeune at any time from 1953 through 1987, and you believe that you suffer from a disease or an illness caused by the contaminated water there, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your eligibility for benefits.