The Lasting Impact of Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune – Guest Post

Water Contamination

In 1982, the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune detected volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the water supplied by the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water treatment plants, revealing the presence of notable contaminants—trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and benzene—in the drinking water consumed by Marine and Navy personnel and their families.

TCE is used for cleaning metal parts, while PCE is utilized in processes like dry cleaning and metal degreasing. Over time, both TCE and PCE undergo degradation in groundwater, leading to the formation of vinyl chloride (VC). Benzene, another identified contaminant, is extensively utilized in manufacturing plastics, resins, nylon, and synthetic fibers.

The identification of these contaminants prompted comprehensive investigations and water-modeling analyses, disclosing that the water sources at Camp Lejeune had been contaminated from the 1950s until the most heavily affected wells were decommissioned in February 1985.

The repercussions of prolonged exposure to TCE and PCE contamination between 1975 and 1985 were severe, resulting in a significant number of individuals who resided at Camp Lejeune during that period developing kidney and bladder diseases. The health risks associated with this exposure raised concerns and prompted a closer examination.

To address potential long-term health impacts, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry initiated a cancer incidence study, which seeks to establish a connection between the contamination at Camp Lejeune and the occurrence of cancer-related cases among the affected population.

Hazards Posed by Contaminants

Cancer Risks

Based on compiled data regarding the impact of contaminants, individuals who were exposed to the polluted water at Camp Lejeune face a heightened risk of various cancers. The presence of TCE and benzene in the water has been associated with an increased likelihood of kidney cancer. The correlation between trichloroethylene and an increase in the risk of liver cancer is also possible.

A study suggested potential connections between breast cancer in males stationed at Camp Lejeune and the exposure to PCE, DCE, and vinyl chloride.

Another research investigates the consequences of exposure to benzene, a contaminant identified in Camp Lejeune’s water supply. Prolonged exposure to benzene has severe effects on the blood. It detrimentally affects the bone marrow, reducing red blood cells and, consequently, anemia. This condition, in turn, can heighten vulnerability to infections due to excessive bleeding and compromised immune function.

Reproductive Health Implications

The contaminated water at Camp Lejeune has been identified as a factor contributing to disruptions in reproductive hormones. Exposure to contaminants at the base is associated with potential reproductive risks, as these chemicals can diminish fecundity and induce alterations in menstrual cycles, potentially leading to miscarriage and infertility.

Developmental Issues

Chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune make it more likely for babies to have certain health problems when they are born. Babies exposed to the polluted water before birth are at a higher risk of having issues with the development of their spinal cord or brain, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. There are also problems with the development of the mouth and lip, known as oral cleft defects, in babies exposed to the contaminated water.

Avenue for Relief and Recognition

Water Contamination

There have been ongoing efforts to address the affected individuals and provide them with the necessary medical care and support. The US government has implemented measures to assist those affected, including the establishment of a medical program to cover health care costs for eligible individuals.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which functions within the US Department of Veterans Affairs, delivers comprehensive healthcare services to eligible military veterans. Those who have served at Camp Lejeune may be eligible to apply for disability compensation, subject to meeting the necessary requirements.

Expanding the VA benefits is the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, or the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 (CLJA). Representing a crucial avenue for relief and recognition for those affected, this legislation allows veterans and their families to file Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits with the Department of the Navy. Eligible individuals who lived, worked, or were exposed to the polluted water for 30 days or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, can seek appropriate relief for harm associated with exposure.

The passage of this act reflects a commitment to addressing the injustices and health issues resulting from the Camp Lejeune water contamination, providing a legal framework for affected individuals to seek compensation and support for the challenges they face due to their exposure.

The Pursuit of Justice for Affected Veterans of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Water contamination at Camp Lejeune has had lasting effects on veterans and their families. The polluted water supply has created a persistent issue, extending beyond the initial exposure. Ongoing investigations emphasizing the need for accountability and compensation are crucial for acknowledging and addressing the impact on those affected by the tainted water. The situation prompts society to recognize the consequences of environmental negligence on the lives of those who have served and sacrificed for their country.

Victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination have until August 10, 2024, to submit their administrative claims, marking two years from the signing of the act. Regrettably, some individuals have succumbed to the illness resulting from water contamination, while others continue to endure the effects and face denial of their claims. The question arises: is there still a viable opportunity for justice for the victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination?