Myelodysplastic Syndrome and Camp Lejeune

January 25, 2024 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

If your doctor diagnosed you with one of the myelodysplastic syndromes, you may know the condition as MDS. It's a group of cancers that affect your ability to produce mature blood cells. Researchers determined that Camp Lejeune's contaminated water was an environmental factor that put up to a million people at risk of developing MDS and other cancers and diseases.

If you trained, lived, or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, you should learn more about the connection between myelodysplastic syndromes and Camp Lejeune water contamination.

Why Now?

When President Biden signed the Honoring our PACT bill into law on August 10, 2022, it gave water contamination victims new legal rights. If you or your loved ones spent time at Camp Lejeune before they cleaned up the chemical contaminants, you may be entitled to make a personal injury claim.

If you contracted MDS or another chronic disease within the past three decades, contact a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer as soon as possible. They can explain your legal rights and determine if the US Government owes you compensation.

What Are Myelodysplastic Syndromes?

Doctors once labeled myelodysplastic syndromes as precancerous conditions such as preleukemia or smoldering leukemia. They now consider MDS a group of cancers. Approximately 33 percent of MDS patients progress to acute myeloid leukemia, a rapidly progressing cancer. While people of all ages develop MDS, they occur most frequently in people aged 60 or older.  Researchers have also determined that a connection exists between certain environmental conditions and MDS.

When a stem cell mutates in your bone marrow, it can initiate an MDS. Your bone marrow begins producing abnormal (aplastic) red and white blood cells and platelets. Some of these defective cells simply die too soon, while the body kills off others. This process of attrition leaves you with a low supply of blood cells. As described by the American Cancer Society's Types of Myelodysplastic Syndromes page, doctors categorize MDS based on specific blood cell characteristics visible under a microscope.

Types of MDS

  • Multilineage Dysplasia: Dysplasia (abnormalities) in two or three types of early cells, at least one type of cell has low numbers, blasts in the bone but not in the blood
  • Single Lineage Dysplasia: Early dysplasia in one type of cell, low numbers of two to three types of cells, minimal or no blasts in the blood
  • MDS With Ring Sideroblasts: At least 15 percent of the blood cells are ring sideroblasts ( iron deposits around the nucleus).
  • MDS With Excess Blasts: More blasts than normal and a possibility of severe dysplasia in bone marrow
  • MDS With Isolated Del: Bone marrow chromosomes missing chromosome number 5, two types of cells have low numbers, dysplasia in one type of cell
  • Unclassifiable MDS: Uncommon, with characteristics that don't fit other MDS types

What Causes Myelodysplastic Syndromes?

Doctors don't always understand what causes a person to develop Myelodysplastic Syndromes. When an MDS is of unknown origin, they classify it as primary. They classify an MDA as secondary when they understand what caused it. Even though doctors can't always diagnose a cause, research has determined that certain factors increase the risk of developing MDS.

These include:

  • Familial genetic mutations
  • Smoking
  • Environmental factors (chemical contaminants, etc.)
  • Chemotherapy treatment for a prior cancer
  • Unknown

Environmental factors at Camp Lejeune included trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene/PCE), and VOC-contaminated air, sediment, soil, surface water, groundwater, and drinking water. Researchers have found a connection between TCE exposure and latent diseases such as MDS.

Diagnosing MDS

Doctors diagnose MDS when a test confirms that something has disrupted your bone marrow's blood-cell production. As the National Cancer Institute's Myelodysplastic Treatment Page explains, patients usually experience no early symptoms. Doctors often find MDS when they notice physical changes in your blood during a routine blood screening.

As an MDS progresses, you may experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Infections
  • Easy Bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (noticeable blood spots under the skin)

To confirm your diagnosis, doctors conduct a physical examination and obtain your complete health history.

They also conduct one or more tests.

  • Complete blood count (CBC): Count the number of platelets and red and white blood cells
  • Peripheral Blood Smear: Examine a drop of your blood on a slide
  • Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy: Remove and test bone, bone marrow, and blood samples from your upper hip
  • Cytogenetic Analysis: Count chromosomes and assess any damage
  • Blood Chemistry Studies: Measure substances (folate, b-12, etc) in a blood sample

MDS Treatments

Doctors treat your MDS based on your cancer's specific characteristics.

The broad treatment categories include supportive care, drug therapy, and chemotherapy with stem cell transplant.

  • Supportive Care: This includes transfusion therapy, stimulating agents to increase blood cells, and antibiotic therapy to fight infections.
  • Drug Therapy: Drugs target your specific type of cancer: immunosuppressive therapy, chemotherapy, and others.
  • Chemotherapy with stem cell transplant: Chemotherapy kills your cancer cells. The stem cell transplant process involves removing, freezing, thawing, and replacing your own stem cells after chemotherapy
  • Pharmaceutical companies continually work on developing drugs for MDS treatment. You have access to these therapies by participating in myelodysplastic syndromes clinical drug trials.

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Camp Lejeune has operated as a United States Marine Corps base since the 1940s. The USMC uses the 156,000-acre location for military training, support operations, and residential areas for military families. The base is physically located in North Carolina but, legally, it's not a part of the state. The base is a military reservation, a legal designation that makes it a federal location and gives the federal government full control.

The water supply has been identified as the primary contamination source. The base operated its own water treatment and distribution facilities. Investigations have determined that the Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace water sites dispersed contaminated water to the base's main areas, the Mainside barracks, 8 residential areas, and a trailer park. Tests showed that the water remained contaminated, even after treatment.

Decades of Investigation

State and federal agencies and independent contractors have been investigating Camp Lejeune contamination issues since the 1980s. They documented a decades-long contamination process that polluted areas throughout the base.

Contaminants entered the water supply from several sources:

  • Leaking storage tanks
  • Chemicals from a dry cleaning plant
  • Metal degreasing operations
  • Improper contaminant disposal

Multiple studies documented TCE, PCE, vinyl chloride, benzene, VOCs, and solvents in the water. Researchers further determined that anyone who lived or worked at this location from 1953 to 1987 likely used contaminated water for bathing, drinking, and other purposes. The base administration took no further action after the earliest contamination reports in 1985. Exposures continued until they began cleanup operations several years later.

One Million People Affected

Researchers estimate that contaminant exposure affected approximately one million people involved in military activities, contract work, or living on the base. Epidemiologists, physicians, chemical experts, and other scientists have spent years deciding which diseases and conditions the contaminants caused.

They determined that medical conditions developed based on several factors.

  • How long exposure continued
  • Timing: during pregnancy or infancy
  • Degree of exposure
  • Types of exposure: air, water, soil, plants
  • Personal habits and traits

Over the years, specialists have prepared a number of reports analyzing contamination and disease issues. They don't always reach consistent conclusions, but the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's assessment confirms a causal relationship between TCE exposure and myelodysplastic syndromes. Recently, the United States made a commitment to consider personal injury claims made by people exposed to contaminants for at least 30 days from 1953 to 1987.

Camp Lejeune Is Still an EPA Superfund Site

The Environmental Protection Agency found contaminated soil, sediment, surface water, and groundwater, and drinking water in areas throughout the base. They found that the water supply remained contaminated even after treatment.

The EPA added Camp Lejeune to its list of Superfund Site sites. They made this designation based on provisions in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA.) The site is also listed on the National Priorities List For Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste Sites.

The EPA identified 26 “operable units'‘ for cleanup. This division established remediation actions based on proximity, types of waste, and types of operations. Each unit required these and other cleanup activities.

Where possible, the EPA used developing groundwater treatment technologies.

  • Remove and dispose of contaminated soil, underground drums, underground and aboveground storage tanks, and batteries
  • Eliminate waste liquids
  • Install groundwater treatment system
  • Install a bio-treatment cell for contaminated soil
  • Complete a soil VOC heat extraction process
  • Initiate industrial controls and groundwater monitoring

Camp Lejeune remains on the National Priorities List. The EPA conducts a compliance review every five years.

Marines Demanded Justice

The United States has finally created a path for Marines, their families, and former base workers to recover personal injury compensation. Many former Marines spent years fighting for this justice. Former Master Sergeant Ensminger began his quest after he learned that water contamination likely caused his daughter's fatal leukemia. He had no success in obtaining answers from the Marines.

Eventually, the Master Sergeant and many other Marines began writing to their elected officials. They testified before Congress and participated in protests. Ensminger allowed a production company to film a documentary about his experiences. The film crew also followed male breast cancer survivors and others who blamed Camp Lejeune for their health issues. Marine activists also created websites where they posted information and organized other sick veterans.

Contamination Victims Filed Lawsuits

Veterans and their families began filing lawsuits in 2009. Initially, a federal judge consolidated the cases into a multidistrict action. Eventually, the court ruled that they had not filed their lawsuits in compliance with North Carolina's Statute of Repose. This law gives injured plaintiffs up to 10 years to file a suit after they learn what caused their sicknesses. The 10-year deadline had passed years before, so the judge dismissed their cases.

Congress Finally Took Action

In response to former Marines' activism, Congress eventually took action.

Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012

After passage, this act became Public Law 154. It includes some of the provisions specified in the Janey Ensminger Act of 2012. The law changes how the Veterans Administration pays certain benefits. It reimburses medical expenses based on residency at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from January 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987. Myelodysplastic syndromes are one of 15 medical conditions that require no proof that they occurred due to Camp Lejeune's contaminated water.

Honoring our PACT Act of 2022

When the president signed H.R.3967 into law, it incorporated provisions from the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. The law eliminates several legal roadblocks that prevented military personnel, families, and workers from filing personal injury claims for contamination-related injuries.

It also includes several important criteria.

  • It waives the statute of limitations that prevented injured parties from making claims.
  • It prevents the United States from claiming an immunity defense.
  • It sets the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina as the exclusive jurisdiction for Camp Lejeune cases.
  • It bars victims from making punitive damage claims.
  • Any future settlement must deduct any Veterans Administration, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits previously paid for contamination-related illnesses.

Contact a Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawyer About MDS

If you or your family members lived or worked at the Camp Lejeune Military Base from 1953 to 1987, you have a limited time to make a claim. If you have received treatment for a chronic illness, Contact a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can determine if the U.S. Marine Corps owes you compensation.


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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