January 24, 2024

Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune: Uncovering the Cancer-Causing Chemical Crisis

Between the 1950s and 1980s, Marines, their families, and civilian workers at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were exposed to contaminated drinking water. Investigations revealed that the water supply was laced with hazardous chemicals at concentrations up to 240 times over the safety standards. The contamination was caused by leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills, and an off-base dry cleaning establishment.

Substances found in the water included trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride, among other chemicals. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals is associated with an increased risk of cancers, neurologic disorders, and other adverse health effects. The extent of the contamination led to comprehensive studies to determine the potential health consequences for those exposed.

Legislation and support services were established to assist veterans and their families affected by the exposure. The government has since engaged in efforts to decontaminate the affected areas and prevent similar incidents in other military installations. Meanwhile, scientific and health professionals continue to assess the long-term implications of the hazardous exposure.

Background of Contamination at Camp Lejeune

From the 1950s through the 1980s, the water at Camp Lejeune, a United States Marine Corps base in North Carolina, was contaminated with harmful chemicals. Two of the base’s eight water treatment facilities, Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point, were identified as the primary sources of contamination. Investigations revealed the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at levels significantly above safety standards.

  • Tarawa Terrace: The contamination was primarily caused by a nearby dry cleaning firm, ABC One-Hour Cleaners. The facility discharged wastewater laden with the solvent perchloroethylene (PCE), which seeped into the ground and into the water supply.
  • Hadnot Point: This facility supplied water to the base’s main barracks, hospital, and family housing. The contamination included various chemicals, notably trichloroethylene (TCE), dichloroethylene (DCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. The sources were leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites.

Continuous exposure to these harmful substances led to health issues among military personnel, their families, and civilian workers. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) identified the following VOCs as the primary contaminants of concern:

  • Perchloroethylene (PCE)
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Benzene
  • Vinyl chloride

These chemicals are known or likely carcinogens and may cause other health complications, including neurological disorders and birth defects. The water contamination at Camp Lejeune is considered one of the worst instances of drinking water contamination in United States history, with a substantial population potentially affected over several decades.

Chemicals Identified in Contaminated Water

The contamination of water at Camp Lejeune was primarily due to four toxic chemicals, which have been linked to various health issues, including cancer.

Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Trichloroethylene is an industrial solvent used for degreasing metal parts. At Camp Lejeune, TCE levels were found to be as much as 280 times the safety standard.

Perchloroethylene (PCE)

Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene, is utilized in dry cleaning. Camp Lejeune’s water supply had PCE concentrations reaching 43 times the current acceptable maximum.


Benzene is a component of gasoline and is known for being able to cause cancer. Investigations showed that Camp Lejeune’s water contained benzene at levels significantly above the safe drinking water standards.

Vinyl Chloride

Vinyl chloride is formed when TCE and PCE degrade. This gas is carcinogenic, and at Camp Lejeune, it was detected in the water, posing additional health risks to those exposed.

Health Impacts of Exposure

Exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune has been linked to severe health effects in veterans and their families. Rigorous studies have established a connection between the exposure and several specific medical conditions.

Cancer Incidence Among Veterans

Veterans exposed to the tainted water at Camp Lejeune have exhibited higher rates of certain cancers. Data indicates a significant correlation with:

  • Male Breast Cancer
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer

Research has consistently shown elevated occurrences of these cancer types among veterans who spent time at the base during the contamination period.

Associated Health Conditions

Beyond cancer, individuals exposed have been diagnosed with other health conditions:

  • Hepatic Steatosis (fatty liver disease)
  • Miscarriage (in spouses)
  • Neurobehavioral Effects

These conditions have been rigorously documented in medical literature, emphasizing the broad range of health implications resulting from the contaminated water exposure.

Family Members Affected

Family members residing at Camp Lejeune during the contamination window also face health risks:

  • Birth Defects: Increased incidence in babies born to exposed mothers.
  • Childhood Leukemia: Notable cases in children of exposed individuals.

The evidence suggests that not only veterans but also their families have endured the adverse effects of the contamination, with certain conditions manifesting even in subsequent generations.

Regulatory Response and Actions Taken

In response to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, various federal entities and legislative bodies have taken action to address the public health crisis and provide relief to those affected.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Studies

The ATSDR has conducted multiple studies to assess the long-term effects of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. They have provided evidence linking the contamination to several adverse health outcomes, including different types of cancer and birth defects.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Involvement

The EPA has categorized the chemicals found in Camp Lejeune’s water supply as hazardous substances and has worked to set regulatory limits. Their involvement included oversight and the provision of guidelines for the cleanup process to ensure the mitigation of contamination.

Legislation and Compensation Efforts

Several pieces of legislation have been enacted to facilitate compensation for victims:

  • 2012 Janey Ensminger Act: Provides medical care to affected military personnel and their families through VA.
  • 2017 Camp Lejeune Families Act: Allows affected individuals to receive healthcare for diseases related to water contamination.
  • Ongoing compensation efforts: Include legal actions and claims processes for those seeking restitution.

Legal Proceedings and Compensation Claims

The legal proceedings stemming from the water contamination at Camp Lejeune have been multifaceted and complex. Many affected individuals filed claims for compensation due to alleged exposure to harmful chemicals in the base’s water supply from the 1950s through the 1980s. The primary chemicals of concern were trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride.

By 2012, the Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act provided certain health benefits to veterans and family members who had been exposed to contaminated water. These benefits covered a range of illnesses believed to be linked to the exposure.

A significant step in legal proceedings was the establishment of a registry for those exposed to the contaminated water, allowing former residents and workers to document their health issues possibly related to the site. This registry has served as an important tool in tracking and addressing health claims.

In recent years, there have been efforts to streamline the compensation claim process in order to provide more proficient resolutions to the pending cases.

  • A presumption of service connection was proposed for veterans affected by the contamination, which would facilitate their access to disability benefits.
  • Legal firms specialize in representing individuals filing disability claims with the Veterans Affairs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes several conditions as being associated with exposure to the water contaminants, and claimants may receive compensation if their illness is among those listed:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

Documentation of exposure is key in these cases, where medical records and historical data are scrutinized to establish a connection between the individual’s service at Camp Lejeune and their subsequent illness.

Preventative Measures and Current Water Safety

Water safety at Camp Lejeune has become a focused concern following historical contamination issues. Several preventative measures have been implemented to ensure the current water supply is free from cancer-causing chemicals. They diligently monitor water sources to prevent future health risks associated with chemical exposure.

Routine Testing: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates frequent testing of Camp Lejeune’s water systems. These tests detect harmful substances and ensure compliance with safety standards.

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • Heavy Metals
  • Microbial Pathogens
  • Regulated Chemicals

Upgraded Infrastructure: Aging pipes and treatment facilities have been replaced or modernized to reduce the risk of contamination.

  • Corrosion-resistant materials
  • Enhanced filtration systems

Public Reports: They maintain transparency through annual quality reports accessible to residents and personnel, keeping them informed about the water they consume.

Educational Programs: Camp Lejeune advocates for water conservation and safety through community outreach and educational materials, fostering a culture of environmental stewardship.

Emergency Protocols: They have developed swift response plans for any detected contamination, prioritizing the health and safety of the community.

  • Immediate notification system
  • Provision of alternative water sources

The current water quality at Camp Lejeune adheres to strict state and federal guidelines, reflecting their commitment to the safety and well-being of all base residents and employees.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses common inquiries related to the health impacts and legal ramifications of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune.

What health effects have been associated with exposure to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune?

Health effects linked to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune include various forms of cancer, birth defects, neurobehavioral effects, and other serious health conditions.

What are common symptoms experienced by individuals exposed to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune?

Symptoms reported by those exposed include headaches, nausea, and respiratory issues. Long-term exposure may lead to more severe health complications.

Are there specific dental issues linked to the Camp Lejeune water contamination?

Research regarding dental issues from the contamination at Camp Lejeune is limited. However, exposed individuals have reported a range of health problems, suggesting the need for further dental health investigation.

What types of cancer have been linked to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune?

The types of cancer associated with Camp Lejeune’s water contamination include leukemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and liver cancer, among others.

What settlements have been awarded for the Camp Lejeune water contamination claims?

Victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination have received settlements through the VA benefits system. The extent of compensation varies based on the severity of the health effects and other factors.

What are the known chemicals identified in the Camp Lejeune water contamination?

The chemicals identified in the Camp Lejeune water include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride.

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