What Caused Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?

January 25, 2024 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

Water contamination of any type can prove catastrophic. Contaminated drinking water can cause many health problems, some of which the injured party will not notice until years later. Unfortunately for Marines who served at Camp Lejeune between 1952 and 1987, this all-too-potent reality transformed into a way of life.

Unfortunately, what caused at Camp Lejeune water contamination substantially increased the risk of developing significant health problems later in life. The VA recognizes several health conditions that may arise from exposure to that water, including adult leukemia, liver cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and Parkinson's disease. Veterans, reservists, and guardsmen who served at Camp Lejeune during that time may have faced substantial exposure to those hazardous substances. If you served at Camp Lejeune during those periods of high water contamination and you suffered a serious diagnosis due to the toxic water, contact an attorney to start your Camp Lejeune lawsuit today.

What Contaminates Did Testing Show in the Camp Lejeune Water Supply?

Testing showed several potential contaminants in the Camp Lejeune water supply.

Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Trichloroethylene is a solvent that removes grease from metal during manufacturing. It has no color, making it hard to detect if it gets naturally washed into a water supply. Commercial dry cleaners may use TCE as part of their spot cleaning treatments, especially to remove grease stains on the fabric.

Because TCE breaks down slowly, it can accumulate in groundwater and soil over time. As a result, tests can find it in drinking water long after initial contamination.

TCE can cause a significantly increased risk of multiple types of cancer, including kidney cancer.

Perchloroethylene (PCE)

Perchloroethylene, or PCE, is often used in metal degreasing and dry cleaning operations. PCE can prove highly carcinogenic. It can cause immediate, acute problems based on short-term exposure or longer-term problems with the respiratory tract, kidneys, or coordination. Consistent or long-term PCE exposure can also raise the risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Like TCE, PCE breaks down relatively slowly over time, which can linger in water sources and soil.


Across the United States, benzene is used in lubricants, detergents, and pesticides, among other products. In effect, benzene causes cells to fail to work correctly. It may lead to anemia, damage the immune system, or decrease white blood cells in people exposed to it at high concentrations.

Long-term exposure to benzene can lead to a significantly increased risk of leukemia in humans.

Vinyl Chloride

Vinyl chloride has many commercial uses, including making plastic for pipes or wire coverings. While vinyl chloride evaporates quickly, it may contaminate local water supplies. When contaminated water evaporates, including water used for household purposes like showering or cleaning, it can evaporate, causing users to inhale it.

Vinyl chloride exposure may increase the risk of liver cancer, brain cancer, lung cancer, and leukemia.

What Caused Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune?

Drinking water at Camp Lejeune contained several potentially toxic chemicals between the 1950s and the 1980s. Unfortunately, the Marine Corps did not discover the high concentrations of those volatile organic compounds in two of the eight water treatment plants on the base until 1982. Marines who lived and worked on that base during those years, and family members who lived on base or visited regularly, may have faced consistent, high levels of exposure to those compounds.

The Tarawa Terrace Water Treatment Plant

At The Tarawa Terrace Water Treatment Plant, testing uncovered high levels of PCE, or perchloroethylene, in the water. Further investigation discovered that ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning company, had unsafe disposal practices for their chemical waste from the dry cleaning process. The dry cleaning company may also have had a high number of spills that may have assisted in overall groundwater contamination. Dry cleaning operations from ABC One-Hour Cleaners began in 1953, and local groundwater contamination may have occurred then. The contamination may have increased over the years due to increased output.

Hadnot Point Water System

The Hadnot Point Water Treatment Plant, which served the base hospital and much of the base housing on Holcomb Boulevard, had several potential contaminants. Investigating the cause of the contamination in that area proved much more complex due to the multiple contaminants found in the water and multiple potential sources for those volatile organic compounds.

First, high levels of TCE contamination occurred in the Hadnot Point water system.

Several potential factors may have contributed to the high level of TCE contamination, including:

  • On-base spills, which Marines may have simply washed away without taking the time to adequately clean up. On-base spills may not have received the attention they should have, based on needs at the time.
  • Leaks from underground storage tanks and drums may have made their way into groundwater and the wells used to supply the Hadnot Point Water Treatment Plant.
  • Local dumps may not have adequately contained hazardous chemicals or used appropriate disposal methods. Over time, those chemicals may have leached into the groundwater, then made their way through the treatment plant and into the water supply used by people on the base.

Those spills may have added up substantially over time, especially since the base, and local dumps and facilities that held those storage tanks, may not have engaged in proper cleanup procedures.

The Hadnot Point Water System may have also contained high levels of PCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene, which may have come from similar industrial sources. In many cases, it can prove difficult to sort out exactly where individual contaminants came from and which entity likely bears liability for each portion of the spill since the water supply had such high levels of contamination.

Once the high contaminants in the water systems came to light, Camp Lejeune shut down those wells and water treatment plants to avoid further spreading that contamination. Camp Lejeune also conducted extensive testing on other water supplies throughout the base. Proper cleanup measures helped reduce further contamination of local water supplies. Unfortunately, many Marines and their families had already suffered the impact of that contamination.

Estimating the Degree of Contamination

No records show the level of contamination at those water treatment facilities before 1982. Therefore, the Marine Corps must rely on estimates of potential contamination over time, based on the contaminants in the water when testing began and the supposed historical amount of contamination in the water.

A committee from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) performed a historical reconstruction of potential contamination to determine what levels likely existed in the water supply over time.

Unfortunately, those models uncovered unacceptably high levels of contaminants in the water, likely beginning around November 1957 for the Tarawa Terrance water supply. The Hadnot Point water supply also likely had similarly high levels of contamination, potentially beginning as early as the late 1940s.

Exposure in Humans Varies by Behaviors

Many may wonder if they faced exposure to any potentially hazardous chemicals while serving or living at Camp Lejeune, particularly if they have faced a devastating cancer diagnosis. Historical reconstruction of the likely contamination of those water supplies, combined with a reconstruction of the individual's movements through the area, may provide insights into how much contamination the individual may have faced.

Experts may ask:

  • Where did you live and work while at Camp Lejeune? How much of the water you used likely came from the contaminated supply?
  • Did you use a great deal of water? Did you typically shower, which could result in more inhalation of those chemicals present in the water, or bathe?
  • Where did you use that water?

Unfortunately, providing an accurate historical recollection of those events can prove difficult, especially since they occurred so long ago. In addition, people may have had nonresidential exposures to contaminated water, particularly as they moved and worked around the base. Records do not show which water source supplied many activities that service members engaged in regularly. As a result, we cannot easily measure exposure in individuals.

All Marines serving at Camp Lejeune between the 1950s and 1980s may assume that they, and any family members living on the base, may have faced a high degree of potential contamination.

Who Bears Liability for Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?

Unfortunately, toxic substances may have contaminated the water at Camp Lejeune for more than 30 years before testing occurred. The contamination came from multiple sources, which may make it even more difficult to determine who bears liability for each segment of the contamination.

However, because the Marine Corps did not conduct adequate testing on the water at Camp Lejeune, and because of the high degree of exposure that occurred during the service member's service, the VA offers benefits for cancers that may have occurred due to exposure to those volatile compounds.

The VA may offer considerable healthcare benefits, including help for bladder, breast, esophageal, lung, or kidney cancer, miscarriages, potential behavioral effects of chemical exposure, and leukemia. Furthermore, the VA may offer disability compensation for veterans who suffered serious disability due to that contamination and exposure.

The Honoring our PACT Act of 2022 aims to provide a higher level of compensation for veterans and their families who may have contended with that dangerous exposure and who may have to seek ongoing medical care for their injuries.

What Should You Do if You Faced Serious Illness Due to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?

If you faced serious illness due to Camp Lejeune water contamination, including a cancer diagnosis, infertility, or serious behavioral changes due, you may recover compensation for your losses. As the PACT Act goes through, many lawyers stand poised to help you learn more about the compensation you deserve, including increasing the compensation you may recover for your illness and ongoing losses.

Collect Your Medical Records

Make sure you have a clear diagnosis for any conditions you may have suffered because of Camp Lejeune water contamination, even if you do not have a clear statement correlating that diagnosis with your service. Get copies of all diagnoses and other records related to your illness. Make sure you include records that show the length of your treatment and the long-term implications that your diagnosis may have had on your life.

Show Your Service Record

To obtain compensation through the pending Camp Lejeune class action lawsuit, you must show that you served at Camp Lejeune between the 1950s and the 1980s. Clear evidence of your service can make it much easier to move forward with your claim once Congress passes the PACT Act.

Call a Lawyer

Matthew A. Dolman, Attorney
Matthew Dolman, Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawyer

If you served at Camp Lejeune during those periods of high water contamination and you suffered a serious diagnosis, you need a Camp Lejeune lawyer on your side who will obtain the compensation you deserve for your considerable losses.

A lawyer can help you gather the information you need to establish your claim and provide you with vital insights into the compensation you may deserve for those ailments. Furthermore, a lawyer may provide you with vital assistance as you file your claim.

Contact a Lawyer Today for Help

If you faced a serious diagnosis due to your service at Camp Lejeune, you need a lawyer on your side who will obtain the compensation offered by the government for those devastating losses. Contact an attorney now to learn more about your rights and how much compensation you may obtain for your losses.

The Dolman Law Group works with local counsel in any jurisdiction outside Florida for the purpose of filing lawsuits in jurisdictions wherein we are not licensed.  Thus, we will follow each State's ethical rules to ensure a local attorney is involved.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

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 successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $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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