What Were the Contaminants in the Water at Camp Lejeune?

October 2, 2022
What Were the Contaminants in the Water at Camp Lejeune? The legacy of living and working at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, follows former residents’ families for generations. After years of denial and deception, the federal government revealed those residing at the camp, or Marine Corps Air Station New River, for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, drank, bathed in, swam in, and cooked with water poisoned with these microscopic chemicals:
  • Benzene
  • Perchloroethylene (PCE)
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Vinyl chloride
Eventually (actually decades later), the government did begin to notify veterans about possible exposure to toxic chemicals in the water. Several signature conditions were acknowledged as possible causes of illness. The reality of this situation is those exposed to the toxins at Camp Lejeune are plagued with a myriad of painful and debilitating illnesses. In response to regulatory agency and government surveys, 28 former residents of the area during the contaminated water time frame posted statements on a website called The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, revealing some other of their family’s specific conditions believed to stem from prolonged exposure to these microscopic chemicals. All of the following ailments were found in just 28 families—just 28 individual families out of hundreds of thousands!
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the nasopharynx
  • Sensory integration disorder
  • VCFS (velocardiofacial syndrome)
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Teeth that do not retain enamel
  • Cleft palate
  • Spina bifida
  • Arsepticarthritis
  • Mini strokes
  • Uterine cancer
  • Ovarian cysts
  • MS
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Cerebral small vessels disease
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Cervical spinal stenosis
  • IBD and diverticulitis
  • POCS
  • Intestinal pneumonitis;
  • Anencephaly
  • Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis
  •  Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Tuberous sclerosis complex
  • Male breast cancer
  • Pervasive developmental disorder
  • Brain tumor
  • Mantle cell lymphoma
  • Adrenal cortical carcinoma
  • Salivary gland blockages
Like all poisons, the severity of illness caused by Camp Lejeune drinking water is directly related to the amount of exposure, the route of contact, the length of exposure, the age of exposure, and any pre-existing medical conditions.

Let’s Talk About Benzene

Benzene is a hydrocarbon and is a widely-used chemical in this country. Benzene has a distinctive odor and taste and comes from industrial and natural sources. Long-term exposure to benzene can create long-term health problems. “Benzene is a human carcinogen with a unique electromagnetic potential that enables it to insert itself into human DNA.”—Benzene Causes Cancer

Sources and uses of benzene

Isolated from coal tar, benzene is made mainly from petroleum. Because of its wide use, According to the Centers for Disease Control, benzene ranks in the top 20 in production volume for chemicals produced in the United States. Benzene is a component of other chemical substances used in the production of:
  • Styrofoam®
  • Various resins
  • Nylon and other synthetic fibers
  • Rubber
  • Lubricants
  • Detergents
  • Drugs
  • Pesticides
  • Paint, lacquer, and varnish removers
  • Industrial solvents
  • Gasoline and other fuels
  • Glues
  • Paints and paint thinners
  • Furniture wax

Exposure to Benzene

Exposure to benzene remains a significant health concern. Daily, we inhale cigarette smoke, industrial pollution, motor vehicle exhaust, and fumes and fallout from household products such as:
  • Cleaners
  • Waxes
  • Paint
  • Glue
  • Detergents
Those living in urban and industrial areas will typically be exposed to higher levels of benzene than country dwellers. Occupational exposure is more likely for those working in the petrochemical industry, at gas stations, or in areas with a high volume of auto exhaust. Additional occupational hazards are possible for :
  • Refinery workers
  • Chemical manufacturing personnel
  • Tire manufacturers
  • Those who store or transport petroleum products
  • Printers
  • Shoemakers
  • Firefighters
  • Laboratory technicians
Workplace exposure can cause:
  • Respiratory issues
  • Headache and dizziness
  • Mental confusion
  • Tremors
  • Loss of consciousness

How benzene enters the body

When we are exposed to contaminated air, Benzene can enter the body through the lungs, and about 50 percent will then pass into the bloodstream. When ingested, most of the contaminants are absorbed into the bloodstream through the gastrointestinal tract.s. Once in the bloodstream, benzene can damage the bone marrow and is known to cause numerous other conditions.

The health effects of exposure to benzene

The length of time a person is exposed to benzene and the magnitude of the contamination will impact the severity of the health issues. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to benzene can result in genetic abnormalities, potentially damaging a fetus in utero.
  • Long-term exposure to benzene can result in blood-related cancers such as:
  • Leukemia
  • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • multiple myeloma
Other possible health issues include:
  • Anemia and excessive bleeding
  • Bone marrow abnormalities
  • Damage to the immune system
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Damage to the liver
  • Cardiac abnormalities
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Decreased sperm count
  • Infertility
  • Genetic changes
  • Death

Harm by Any Other Name

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lists benzene as a known human carcinogen in its 15th Report on Carcinogens (published on December 21, 2021). Benzene is deadly whether we call it a poison, toxin, or contaminant. The crux of the matter is the men, women, and children living on or around Camp Lejeune were put in harm’s way for a very long time. In retrospect, we now know that the government was aware the water supply was tainted—they knew and did nothing. The passage of The Camp Lejeune Justice Act gives a legal avenue to those harmed by the deception of epic proportions. The time is now to seek justice, compensation, and closure.

All About Perchloroethylene

PCE is a contaminant known as a probable carcinogen. The substance is a major player in the current toxic water quest for legal justice, as it was eventually found to be in the water supply at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water treatment plants served: the areas in and around the base, including:
  • Enlisted-family housing
  • The barracks
  • The facilities’ administrative offices
  • Schools
  • Local businesses
  • The local hospital
  • Recreational areas

Exposure to Perchloroethylene

PCE has a sharp, sweet, ether-like odor. It is hard to imagine the residents of Camp Lejeune not complaining about the taste and smell of the water. Sadly, the military The following is taken from a statement made by a child living at Camp Lejeune during the qualifying time period: “During the time we lived at Camp LeJeune, my siblings and I were always getting sick. We never liked the taste of the water there either. My mom would have to make Kool-aid all the time to hide the taste of the water.” Contamination of water and soil occurs from industrial waste. PCE was the primary contaminant in the Tarawa Terrace system wells. The chemical was used by an off-base dry cleaner— the ABC One-Hour Cleaners, and due to improper disposal practices, the groundwater became contaminated. Speculation is that the problem began as early as 1953, coincidentally when the dry cleaning establishment opened.

Sources and uses of Perchloroethylene

Perchloroethylene is a fluorocarbon associated with :
  • Dry cleaning and textile operations
  • The production of Freon
  • Metal cleaning processes
We can expect to find PCE in some:
  • Rubber coatings
  • Metal degreasers
  • Stain removers
  • Solvent soaps
  • Ink
  • Adhesives
  • Glue
  • Polishes
  • Lubricants
  • Pesticides
  • Stone polishing products
  • Paints and paint removers
  • Mold removers
We should not expect to find PCE in our drinking water, yet potentially hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans were blindsided by the military decision-makers. Decades after the fact, and after suffering from potentially needless and painful medical conditions, our veterans learned the painful truth. “A shot-glass full of PCE is enough to contaminate an entire Olympic-size swimming pool.”—EnviroForensics

How Perchloroethylene enters the body

Long-term exposure to PCE is dangerous. Perchloroethylene can get into the body from the air, water, or soil and can absorb through the skin. The contaminated drinking water enters the bloodstream through the stomach. waterThe effects of exposure to PCE can take years to develop. According to a publication in the Federal Register, we know the Environmental Health Agency (EPA) finds that PCE presents an unreasonable risk of injury to health.

The health effects of exposure to perchloroethylene

Exposure to perchloroethylene can cause:
  • A disruption of the central nervous system
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Reproductive issues
  • Changes in behavior
  • Intractable headaches
  • Harm to a fetus in utero
  • Problems with coordination
  • Memory issues
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth defects
  • Placental abruption
  • Placental insufficiency
  • Neurological issues
  • Impairment to the immune system
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
Now that we know what to look for, the research is there, and the facts are difficult to hear. A study led by the Boston University School of Public Health researchers finds that pregnant women who drank PCE-contaminated water were up to twice as likely to have a stillbirth, and a similar study published in Environmental Health, found women with any PCE exposure had a 1.7-fold increased odds of stillbirth due to placental abruption or placental insufficiency. The women at Camp Lejeune had no idea. If they had been made aware of the health risks, might they have made different choices? We will never know.

There Is Light at the End of the Long Tunnel

Victims (and their descendants) of the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune now have legal recourse to file a lawsuit —even if the exposure was anywhere from 40-70 years ago. Because of the government’s unwillingness to correct an egregious situation and take responsibility, countless veterans and civilians were harmed by:
  • Toxic waste from underground storage tanks leaking into the drinking water supply
  • Waste disposal sites near their homes
What happened at camp Lejeune should never have happened. Approximately one million service men and women, their children, future children, and civilian workers were in the dark about potential health hazards. Life is not always fair, and we know that times have been hard for those families who have battled and continue to battle the physical, emotional, and financial consequences of a future filled with life-altering and often life-ending medical issues.

Good News Travels Fast

The media and the internet are flooded with news of the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. The most asked question at this point is, “Do I need a lawyer?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.” The government will not make financial recovery an easy process. There are strict requirements for eligibility and definitive deadlines for filing. Claims must be made at a specific location and contain all pertinent documentation. An experienced personal injury attorney with the reputation and resources to take on the federal government will be able to help an applicant gather necessary documents such as: Claimants have much to gain—and without legal counsel, quite possibly a lot to lose. A lawyer can help a family determine the full and fair value of:
  • Medical bills
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of any enjoyment of life
  • Dealing with a permanent disability
We encourage any present military member, veteran, spouse, or child (alive or in utero) living on or around Camp Lejeune from 1953-1987 for a minimum of 30 consecutive days who believes his or her present health condition may have a qualified connection to the water contamination, to contact a lawyer. The time has come for the victims of Camp Lejeune to get their day in court. The government has opened the door for financial recovery. At Dolman Law Group, we have a legal team ready to help affected families walk through that door and claim the financial compensation they rightly deserve. Contact us for a free consultation.

The Factors That Determine the Extent of the Injury

The severity of illness caused by toxicity depends on the amount and length of exposure, how the exposure happened, age, sex, diet, genetic disposition, and lifestyle habits of the exposed. Not every exposed person will contract an illness, and every illness can have different consequences.

Water Safety

There were no actual water safety standards until the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. The wheels of government regulatory agencies do not move fast, and it took some time before all water sources in the country were required to test water for volatile organic compounds. Although hazardous substances were found at Camp Lejeune, the two water treatment plants involved remained open until 1987, all the while supplying contaminated drinking water to the base, base housing, and the local community.

What Is Trichloroethylene?

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a carcinogenic substance and a human health hazard. We are exposed to trichloroethylene from contaminated air, water, food, soil, and direct skin contact. TCE affects the central nervous system, vital organs, the male reproductive system, and developing embryos.

Where is Trichloroethylene found, and what is it used for?

Trichloroethylene is a solvent used to remove grease from metal parts and a chemical that is used to make other chemicals. TCE is used in the manufacturing processes of:
  • Disinfectants
  • Dyes
  • Perfumes
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Soaps
Industrial waste from the following may contain TCE:
  • Dry cleaners
  • Mechanic shops
  • Print shops
  • The textile industry

How can trichloroethylene affect my health?

Once used in surgery as an anesthetic, exposure to TCE can cause headaches, dizziness, coma, and death. Prolonged exposure may result in:
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Sensory and balance issues
  • Cardiac irregularities
  • Liver damage
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney damage
  • Kidney cancer
  • Scleroderma
  • Decreases in sex drive and sperm quality
  • Testicular cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Vinyl Chloride

Vinyl chloride is a manufactured substance released into the environment in manufacturing or processing plants, The majority of vinyl chloride made is used to manufacture PVC, and the breakdown of the components results in the formation of hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, and carbon dioxide. Humans can be exposed to vinyl chloride by drinking water from contaminated wells. Long-term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride can result in:
  • Brain cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Hepatic angiosarcoma
  • Heart damage
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Behavioral changes
  • Skin and bone disorders
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sensory issues
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Soft tissue cancers
Dizziness is a common consequence of exposure to vinyl chloride, as is numbness and pain in the fingers. Although the primary focus on the chemical compounds found in the water supply at Camp Lejeune focuses on the main four (PCE, TCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride), the soil, groundwater, and surface water contains a comprehensive laundry list of other toxins, including:
  • Dichloroethane
  • Methylnaphthalene
  • Carbazole
  • Acetone
  • Aluminum
  • Antimony
  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Beryllium
  • Cadmium
  • Chloroform
  • Cobalt
  • Cyanide
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Naphthalene
  • Phenol
  • Thallium

Some possible consequences of exposure to these substances include:

Lead

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Delayed growth
  • Learning, hearing, and speech difficulties

Arsenic

  •  Lung cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney cancer

Mercury

  • irritation to the eyes
  • Stomach issues
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Respiratory issues
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Weakness

Cyanide

  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cardiac abnormalities
  • Respiratory failure

Naphthalene

  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Liver damage
  • Neurological damage

Acetone

  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness

Potential Claimants Have A Lot To Lose

Those who have lost so much may miss out on capturing the total value of their potential claim. It is not possible to say what each claim may be worth, but it is expected that compensation will be based on the details of each family’s loss. Allowable damages can include:
  • The actual out-of-pocket costs of medical care, home health care, and medications
  • The costs of diagnostic tests and surgical procedures
  • Transportation to and from treatments
  • Hospitalization costs
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Necessary home modifications
  • Adaptive equipment
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of future earning potential
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of any enjoyment in life
Additionally, qualified family members may ask for wrongful death benefits for losing a loved one due to contaminated water. A personal injury lawyer can protect your legal rights and help with the details of a lawsuit against a government entity. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the payout for Camp Lejeune settlements and legal expenses associated with handling such claims to be 6.7 Billion dollars. An experienced attorney can;
  • Evaluate a claimant’s specific exposure to the toxins in the water at Camp Lejeune to determine eligibility
  • Help a claimant determine a total and fair amount of compensation based on the details of each exposure
  • Aid in the procurement of necessary documentation
Those in need deserve an attorney not afraid to take a claim to a trial. It is time that the government faces the consequences of its actions in front of a judge and jury. We encourage all those who served or lived in and around the Military base at Camp LeJeune between August 1953 and December 1987 for at least thirty days—and have a medical condition with a possible link to the water toxicity, to sell legal counsel.

Decades Later

Personal Injury Lawyer
Matt Dolman, Camp Lejeune Attorney
To those with a personal connection to the Camp Lejeune water contamination problem—we know that each and every story is personal and tragic. The sad part is that all of them might have been prevented if appropriate action had been taken. Decades later, we are reading some of the claimant’s impact statements with disbelief. And these stories and statements go on and on. The fight for justice is just beginning, but there is a short two-year time period to stand up and be counted. Contact an experienced legal team who is ready to help those who were denied justice for so long.

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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