Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
For over 30 years, service members, their families, and other civilians living and working at Camp Lejeune were potentially exposed to contaminated drinking water. Camp Lejeune is the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast, located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Between 1953 and 1987, Marines and civilians drank, cooked with, and bathed in water found to be contaminated. Toxic chemicals, including four specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were identified in the water.
All four VOCs have been linked to serious, and sometimes deadly, illnesses such as various cancers, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control, linked the contamination with industrial spills, leaking underground storage tanks, and most prominently, an off-base dry cleaning company. The main contaminants in the Camp Lejeune water supply were trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. Exposure to just one of these chemicals over time is enough to cause damage to the human body. For instance, TCE is carcinogenic to humans through all routes of exposure. It can also cause non-cancerous damage in the central nervous system, kidney, liver, immune system, male reproductive system, and to a developing embryo or fetus. These findings are supported by evidence spanning several decades.
Camp Lejeune Justice Act
To aid victims of long-term use of the base’s contaminated water, the federal government passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act). This became federal law once President Biden signed off on the Camp Lejeune Justice Act CLJA) on August 10, 2022. The act grants the U.S. District Court of North Carolina exclusive jurisdiction to hear these cases. A potential plaintiff has two years after the CLJA’s enactment to file a suit. Prior to filing, however, they must first submit an administrative claim with the Department of the Navy. The claim must set forth certain key facts such as the dates of exposure and medical diagnosis of any health condition, medical treatment information, and any other financial or mental impact suffered by the plaintiff. Damages awarded to a plaintiff will be offset by any previously paid disability claims.
In August 2022, legislation granted the right to pursue legal action against the federal government for injuries suffered as a result of the contamination. This legislation not only allowed for new cases against the federal government but granted a second chance to those previously denied due to statutes of limitations or on federal immunity grounds. Per the Congressional Budget Office, total payouts were estimated to reach at least $6.1 billion. Claim estimates were originally expected to hit 20,000. That has proven to be a severe underestimation. To date, JAG has reported over 15,000 claims since the legislation was passed five months ago, with 5,000 in just the first month. Experts are now estimating numbers closer to 500,000 claims. With a filing deadline of August 2024, it’s anyone’s guess what that final count will look like.
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