Service members, families, and civilian workers who lived at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 may be eligible to submit a claim for injuries suffered as a result of their water consumption and exposure at the base. Studies estimate that one million people were exposed to contaminated drinking water linked to cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems.
New government policies can help impacted individuals achieve compensation for their exposure to contaminated water. If you served, lived, or worked at Camp Lejeune and suffer from an eligible health condition, reach out to the experienced toxic exposure lawyers at Wallace Miller. Our firm can be reached at 312-261-6193 or via our online questionnaire.
Water contamination at Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune
First established in 1941, Camp Lejeune is a U.S. Marine Corps base camp located south of Jacksonville. Operating over 156,000 acres, it trains Marines for global deployment and provides housing, logistical support, and other facilities. It remains one of the largest and busiest Marine Corps bases for training individuals in combat readiness.
Toxins were identified in the Camp Lejeune water supply between 1953 and 1987 at three of the base’s eight water treatment plants: Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard.
Testing at the Base began in the early 1980s in response to new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding trihalomethanes, chemicals created when water is treated with chlorine. The results were initially inconclusive, with then-unidentified chemicals interfering with the results. In 1982, these chemicals were identified as the dangerous chemicals trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE). However, the source of the contamination was not immediately identified. As part of an environmental cleanup program, the Navy attempted to identify contaminated sites at Camp Lejeune in the mid-1980s by testing wells near potentially contaminated sites. In 1984 and 1985, ten wells were identified and removed from service.
During this testing, benzene—another dangerous chemical—was found in a well serving the Hadnot Point water system. That well was taken out of service as further testing identified additional contaminated wells.
The news of contaminated drinking water became public in December 1984 via an article in the base’s newspaper. The Marine Corps held its first press event nearly six months later. The areas affected included the hospital and residential zones, consisting mostly of housing for the families of enlisted personnel and barracks for unmarried personnel. As a result, the individuals most likely to be exposed to the contaminated water were people of reproductive age and young family members.
Sources of contaminated drinking water
The contaminated wells were affected by sources both on- and off-base. On the grounds of Camp Lejeune, industrial activities and leaking chemical storage tanks led to higher rates of chemicals in the soil and groundwater. The primary dry cleaner used by service members at Camp Lejeune was responsible for the bulk of the contamination off-base, as chemicals used in the processes were not disposed of safely.
The contaminants from both sources leached into wells at Camp Lejeune, which then pumped groundwater into the water systems. Spokespeople from the Marine Corps have asserted that there were no drinking water regulations for these chemicals at the time, as relevant federal regulations were not published until 1987.
What chemicals were found in the water?
The wells at Camp Lejeune were largely contaminated by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that includes fuels and solvents. Four core chemicals were identified in the water samples:
- Trichloroethylene (TCE): A clear, colorless liquid mostly used for cleaning metal, including weapons, engine parts, and machinery.
- Tetrachloroethylene (PCE): Also known as perchloroethylene or perc, it is widely used in dry cleaning processes.
- Vinyl chloride (VC): An industrial chemical used to make PVC for pipes, packaging materials, and wire cable coatings, vinyl chloride may result from the breakdown of chemicals including TCE and PCE.
- Benzene: A chemical compound found in gasoline and other fuels, it can be used to make rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, plastics, drugs, synthetic fibers, and pesticides.
Studies also found 70 secondary chemicals in the base’s water, including methylene chloride (a chemical solvent used for paint removal) and toluene (a component of gasoline and other fuels). While it is difficult to estimate what amounts of each contaminant were in the water before testing began, environmental studies have found that levels of toxic chemicals were up to 280 times what is considered safe by the EPA.
What areas were impacted by chemical water contamination?
The following plants were impacted by contaminated water:
- Tarawa Terrace treatment plant. Primarily contaminated by the nearby dry cleaners, the highest level of PCE detected at Tarawa Terrace was 215 parts per billion in February 1985. The current maximum safe level of PCE is 5 parts per billion. The treatment plant served Tarawa Terrace family housing and the Knox trailer park.
- Hadnot Point treatment plant. The water at Hadnot Point was affected by multiple contaminants, including waste disposal sites and leaking underground storage tanks. The highest level of TCE detected at Hadnot was 1400 parts per billion in May 1982. The limit for TCE in drinking water is now 5 parts per billion. Hadnot Point served the Mainside barracks and Hospital Point family housing as well as Midway Park family housing, Paradise Point, and Berkeley Manor prior to 1972.
- Holcomb Boulevard treatment plant. The Holcomb Boulevard plant was only contaminated when the Hadnot plant supplied the area in high-demand seasons from 1972 to 1985. The plant served family housing at Midway Park, Paradise Point, Berkeley Manor, and Watkins Village, as well as Tarawa Terrace family housing after 1987.
Health problems linked to chemical exposure
Many diseases and conditions have been linked to toxic exposure, including certain forms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and birth defects in children born to those exposed to the toxins while pregnant.
Because of the variety of conditions that may be linked to the contaminated water, diseases are divided into categories. The first contains diseases that have a “presumptive” service connection—those for which there is strong evidence linking their incidence to time at Camp Lejeune. In these cases, it is presumed that diagnosed individuals are qualified to seek justice for their diseases connected to time stationed, living, or working at the base between 1953 and 1987.
Presumptive conditions include:
- Aplastic anemia
- Many types of cancer, including:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer (including male breast cancer)
- Esophageal cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease)
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Parkinson’s disease
- Renal toxicity
Many other diseases, illnesses, and conditions may be linked to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, depending on the circumstances of the specific case. These conditions include:
- Appendix cancer
- Brain cancer
- Bile duct cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Intestinal cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Sinus cancer
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Spinal cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Fertility or pregnancy issues and infant injuries, including:
- Birth defects
- Cognitive disability
- Congenital malformation (microcephaly)
- Conjoined twins
- Autoimmune diseases
- Cysts, tumors, and polyps
The likelihood of negative effects due to chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune depends on a number of factors, including when the exposure occurred, the degree of exposure, the duration of the exposure, the nature of the exposure, and the personal habits of the individual.
The fight for justice
Plaintiffs in the Camp Lejeune litigation claim that the U.S. Military covered up evidence of water contamination and misled or did not inform those living, serving, and working at the base. As early as 1980, a report to the Navy warned that some well water was “highly contaminated.” Warnings from lab technicians escalated over the course of the next year, and 1982 tests by Grainger Laboratories found solvents in the two largest living areas at the base.
Despite state pressure, the Marine Corps waited until 1984 to test the wells directly, claiming contamination evidence was inconsistent. Finally, official tests by the Marine Corps in 1984 and 1985 confirmed dangerously high levels of chemicals and a number of wells were closed down.
The EPA warned that Camp Lejeune was a “major polluter” in the 1970s, before the contaminated well water came to light. The base had dumped oil and industrial wastewater into storm drains, buried potentially radioactive materials, and operated a daycare at the former site of pesticide mixing and storage facility. Meanwhile, the nearby dry-cleaning business also disposed of its wastewater, including PCE, in storm drains.
The Marine Corps claims that the water quality at the base was consistent with the standard requirements of the time. However, while the EPA did not specifically regulate organic solvents like PCE in the early 1980s, they did ban harmful substances in water, including hazardous waste.
In 1989, Camp Lejeune was listed as an EPA Superfund site, a contaminated area designated by the federal government for focused cleanup. Ten years later, the Marine Corps began officially informing some former Camp Lejeune residents that they may have been exposed to toxic chemicals.
A criminal investigation conducted by the EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) from 2003 to 2005 found that there had been no violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and no conspiracy to conceal evidence. A report chartered by the Commandant of the Marine Corps in 2004 examined the decision-making at Camp Lejeune and found no violations or coverup—although they did report that the base’s communication with residents was inadequate. In 2007, the Government Accountability Office reviewed actions taken by the U.S. Marine Corps and offered no conclusions or recommendations.
These investigations have drawn criticism because they were conducted by organizations internal to the U.S. government, with some parties alleging a conflict of interest. In early 2012, the Marine Corps sparked further controversy when they asked the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to The Marine Corps claimed that publishing the detailed schematics would pose a risk to the security of the base. However, veterans say that the information has been publicly available for decades. The information contained in the report had been requested by independent scientists in order to conduct a thorough external investigation of the base’s policies and actions.
Later that year, President Barack Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. This act required the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to begin providing health care to eligible veterans for 15 health conditions that may be linked to service at Camp Lejeune. The ATSDR officially linked exposure to chemicals at Camp Lejeune to a number of cancers in 2014.
Despite this progress towards increased support for those impacted by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, a 2016 court opinion allowed the government to deny claims based on “sovereign immunity,” a legal doctrine under which a state is immune from civil or criminal lawsuits. Despite the pause on Camp Lejeune lawsuits, service members and their families continued to advocate for recognition and compensation.
A rule finalized in January 2017 labeled eight diseases as “presumptive” for service connection, meaning that the VA automatically assumes that these conditions are linked to one’s military service. Individuals diagnosed with these conditions who also served or lived at Camp Lejeune for more than 30 days were provided with VA disability benefits.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
In 2022, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act) was passed, granting certain legal claims exceptions from government immunity protections and expanding VA benefits for veterans exposed to toxins like Agent Orange and burn pits.
The PACT Act also included the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which opened a two-year period for military service members, families of service members, and civilian workers who were exposed to chemicals at Camp Lejeune to file claims.
Until August 2024, individuals exposed to toxins can file an administrative claim with the DOJ. If the claim isn’t adjudicated in six months, the claimant can file a civil suit in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Am I eligible for a Camp Lejeune lawsuit?
Over a million Marines, families, and workers are estimated to have been exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. In order to be eligible for the litigation, the individual must have been:
- Exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days;
- Exposed between the years 1953 and 1987;
- Diagnosed with a health condition linked to the water contamination.
Many health conditions and diseases have been linked to exposure, including Parkinson’s disease, certain types of cancer, and birth defects.
What is the Elective Option?
In September 2023, the Justice Department and Department of the Navy announced the Elective Option, a new settlement option for Camp Lejeune claims that will allow the government to more quickly resolve qualifying claims. Under the Elective Option, certain injuries caused by exposure at Camp Lejeune are eligible for set compensation amounts. According to a press release published by the U.S. Navy Office of Information, compensation received through the Elective Option does not impact VA benefits.
The amount individuals may receive depends on the injury and the length of the individual’s exposure at Camp Lejeune and are divided into two tiers:
- Tier 1 Qualifying Injuries under the Elective Option
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Bladder cancer
- Tier 2 Qualifying Injuries under the Elective Option
- Multiple myeloma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Kidney disease or end stage renal disease
- Systemic sclerosis or systemic scleroderma
To qualify for the Elective Option you must still first file an administrative claim. The will review the facts of cases submitted and decide whether or not to make an Elective Option offer, a process that currently takes about six months.
For some people, the Elective Option may be a good choice—it provides a way to receive compensation more quickly and ends a long and often tedious process. However, the compensation amounts do not take into account the severity or number of injuries sustained, and so may be inadequate for individuals who are more severely impacted. Even if you don’t qualify for the Elective Option, you may still be able to receive compensation through a legal claim.
The litigation process is complicated, and the Elective Option makes it even more so. Your attorney will work with you to determine the best way to proceed and provide recommendations based on your specific circumstances. Call our office at 312-261-6193 for a free and confidential assessment of your case in minutes, or fill out our online questionnaire to check your availability.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Camp Lejeune still operating?
Camp Lejeune is still operational, with a current population including 38,778 individuals on active duty, 38,769 family members, 3,349 civilians, and more than 18,000 retirees and family members.
According to the U.S. Marine Corps Division of Public Affairs, “Camp Lejeune is in compliance with the comprehensive federal and state laws and regulations established to ensure safe drinking water.” The water at the base is closely monitored for any contamination and checked quarterly for any VOCs. Annual reports available to the public detail the water quality at the base.
What is the average payout for a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit?
In any litigation, there is no guarantee of a settlement or jury verdict in your favor. However, the bellwether trial process can help both the plaintiff and the defense counsel to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case. During this process, both parties can test the legal theories and injuries involved in the case in front of a jury. From there, factors specific to the individual plaintiff’s case, such as medical history, related conditions, and the amount and type of product use, may influence the settlement offer amount.
Since this is a mass tort and not a class action, if a global settlement is eventually reached, the amount each plaintiff receives will depend on their situation. Global settlements—or settlements that apply to multiple plaintiffs—are often divided up into tiers. The plaintiffs in these tiers will receive different set amounts typically based on the type and severity of injury they suffered.
Our lawyers are committed to fighting for the best possible outcome for all plaintiffs involved. They will work with you throughout the process to keep you informed about your case and what is happening with the Camp Lejeune litigation, including the likelihood of a settlement and your potential award amount.
How much does it cost to hire a Camp Lejeune attorney?
Wallace Miller relies entirely on successful settlements to pay our operation fees, so there is no upfront out-of-pocket cost for our clients. This means that you will not incur any kind of fee for your Camp Lejeune lawsuit unless we win your case.
Meet your Camp Lejeune lawyers
The legal team at Wallace Miller is proud to represent veterans, service members, families, and civilian workers in the Camp Lejeune litigation. Our law firm is focused on protecting the victims of negligence and fraud through consumer protection, product liability, employment, environmental and toxic harm, and personal injury litigation.
We know that there are many choices available to you when looking for a lawyer to represent you in cases like the Camp Lejeune lawsuit. What sets us apart from other firms is our commitment to our clients, our ability to handle complex high-stakes litigation, and our outstanding track record of success. We only take on cases that our firm has faith in—those that can make a difference in our clients’ lives.
Questions about your potential Camp Lejeune case? Call our office at 312-667-3143 or fill out our online questionnaire for a confidential and free consultation.