Certain incidents leave behind such an unforgettable impact that there are either victories to be celebrated or lessons to be learned. The infamous Camp Lejeune water contamination crisis sadly fell into the latter category.
This incident did not just claim hundreds of lives but also left thousands crippled and struggling to pick up the shattered pieces. It is one of the worst instances of water contamination in US history!
Some people believe to this date that the United States Marine Corps (USMC) knew all about the problem, which persisted from 1953 to 1987. In that case, Camp Lejeune exposed the loopholes in safety mechanisms as well as those in leadership and quality testing.
What is the scenario like today? And why are victims still hesitant to receive the compensation they deserve? This article will discuss that and more.
What Exactly Happened at Camp Lejeune?
On the coast of North Carolina, the US Marine Corps established a robust military training base in 1942. This base was (and still is) home to thousands of veterans and their civilian families. The government spent nearly $14 million to set up Camp Lejeune in 246 square miles.
Over time, aggressive water contamination was discovered in at least three of the eight distribution tanks in Camp Lejeune’s water supply – the Hadnot Point, the Tarawa Terrace, and the Holcomb Boulevard. These discoveries continued from 1953 to 1987 (with the three tanks shutting down within this time period).
However, the military service members and their families had made direct contact with (even ingested) water contaminated with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) like trichloroethylene (TCE) and benzene. Not just that, but the exposure levels were 3400 times higher than the maximum prescribed levels! With such toxicity, it is a miracle that anybody would even survive.
The Timeline for Water Quality Testing
Let’s quickly take a walk-through of the timeline for testing the water quality at Camp Lejeune:
- 1980 – In this year, programs were held to test the water for specific chemicals prescribed by the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
- 1981 – Marine officials received reports that stated the water of the said three tanks was highly contaminated. The reason was also mentioned – improper waste disposal practices of a dry cleaning company (ABC) off the base.
- 1982 – The US Marine Corps handed over the testing to Grainger Laboratories – a private firm. Even they reported that the water was contaminated with hazardous substances. This report was largely neglected.
- 1983 – In this year, the State of North Carolina itself intervened. Not only were they denied any duplicates of the Grainger Lab reports, but also the lab’s testing was discouraged.
- 1984 – The US EPA chose a different testing company to test and publish an independent report. The shocking outcome was that it found the tankers to be full of even more toxic chemicals. The base quietly began taking down the contaminated wells, but there were no efforts to protect the veterans at these facilities.
The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has released a detailed document on the Camp Lejeune timeline.
The Tragic Aftermath of Toxic Water Intake
The hazards of Camp Lejeune’s toxic water contamination were being grievously downplayed. Meanwhile, the lives of thousands of veterans, their families, and even unborn babies in utero were hanging by a thread. That thread grew more precarious over the following years when case after case of death and serious injuries began showing up.
Camp Lejeune victims have had to endure various types of ailments, including different types of cancer, multiple myeloma, birth defects, neurological problems, infertility issues, miscarriages, and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, among others. With the Federal authorities involved, the victims were made eligible for government-assisted medical care under President Barrack Obama’s Janey Ensminger Act of 2012.
Eventually, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was passed in 2022. Affected veterans, their civilian families, families of the deceased, as well as individuals who were unborn at the time, are now eligible to file a Camp Lejeune toxic water lawsuit.
The conditions for filing a claim include at least 30 days of prolonged exposure to the contaminated water between 1953 and 1987.
Why Veterans Are Still Hesitant to File Claims
Even though thousands of veteran families were affected by the Camp Lejeune water toxicity, many still have second thoughts about filing a claim. The reasons are varied, including:
- Some do not even believe that their claim will be approved in court.
- Some fear that their claim approval may take years.
- Some do not pursue a claim because they compare themselves to other affected families. They believe themselves to be not as severely impacted.
According to TorHoerman Law, lawyers are helping struggling veterans receive the compensation they deserve. To date, they have observed claimants receive settlements between $10,000 and $500,000 depending upon the losses endured.
The four-decade-long crisis has still not ended in some sense.
If anything, it has highlighted the importance of solid leadership, real-time hazard monitoring in water systems, and periodic testing of water quality. Not only that, but it is also suspected that there was a possible vapor intrusion that made even the indoor air dangerous at these facilities.
In the end, it is only relevant preventive measures that will help avert another gruesome tragedy.