Are You Aware of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Scandal?
Over the last week, I've seen many commercials about Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC. The commercials' tone, text, and presentation are all familiar: they're for a class action lawsuit involving water contamination at the respective Marine Corps base. And justice has been a long time coming.
The commercials themselves inform viewers that if you or someone you knew spent time on the base, commonly known as "Camp Lejeune," prior to 1988, and developed any number of illnesses — bladder cancer, liver cancer, Non Hodgkin Lymphoma, and several others — that you could be entitled to significant compensation.
The reason? Leaking underground fuel tanks contributed to more than 70 chemicals finding their way into the camp's water supply — the same one servicemembers and their families drank and bathed in during their stay. Estimates were the chemicals in the water were at concentrations from 240 to 3,400 times levels permitted by safety standards. Some of the chemicals were benzene, perchloroethylene, and other highly carcinogenic toxics that are extremely harmful to humans and their internal organs.
It wasn't until 1999 that the United States Military Corps (USMC) reached out to notify former base residents that they might have consumed contaminated water during their stay. Prior to this, most residents didn't put the pieces of the puzzle together. They were too busy battling sickness, dying, or already dead.
Just last week, I took a tour of Dubuque's very own Veterans Freedom Center, an entirely volunteer-run operation. VFC is a safe haven for veterans in the Tri-States, who have already experienced so many harrowing events and trauma unknown to the majority of Americans. With that trip fresh in mind, the Camp Lejeune story captivated me maybe more than it would've had I not taken that tour so recently.
Either way, I wanted to write a few words on the subjects, in hopes that maybe one or two local veterans might have a chance at the financial gain they deserve — although I'm sure most would simply just like their health back.
This class action lawsuit has been a long time coming, to say the least. Again, the USMC started notifying residents of the water contamination more than 11 years after the problem was "fixed." It wasn't until 2008 that the USMC began a congressionally authorized campaign to notify former base residents. That health registry has exceeded 135,000 individuals.
In 2009, a woman named Laura Jones filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Jones had lived there with her husband, a Marine, for several years. The Navy argued that the statue of limitations had expired. A U.S. District Judge rejected the Navy's argument, however. It was the first of several lawsuits that preceded tangible congressional action.
First came the Janey Ensminger Act in 2012 in honor of a man's daughter who died of cancer at the age of nine. It authorized medical care to military and family members who resided at the base between 1957 and 1987 and also developed conditions linked to the contaminated water. It applied to up to 750,000 people and 15 specific ailments linked to the contamination, including cancer of the esophagus, lung, breast, leukemia, and hepatic steatosis, just to name a few.
However, what prompted the aforementioned class action lawsuit was the Camp LeJeune Justice Act. Signed into law by President Joe Biden on June 16, 2022, the bill provides monetary relief for those injured by exposure to Camp Lejeune's toxic water. The prerequisite for compensation is "30 days of living or working or otherwise being exposed" between 1953 and 1987. Victims' harms also must be demonstrated and associated with some condition caused by the toxins found in the water.
This is just a brief synopsis of the Camp Lejeune water contamination crisis and ensuing class action lawsuit. It's a truly sad state of affairs around, but there's a glimmer of hope knowing that some (unnecessarily delayed) relief will soon be in the hands of those impacted.
You can read more about the class action lawsuit here or visit here for a comprehensive history of the crisis.