Litigation Guides

An Attorney's Guide to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The historical context and ongoing repercussions of the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination, a significant incident dating back to 1942 when the U.S. Marine Corps established Camp Lejeune as a military training facility in North Carolina.

Military training
01

Timeline

1942: The US Marine Corps established Camp Lejeune, a base in North Carolina

1950s-80s: People living and/or working at the base were potentially exposed to contaminated drinking water

1982: The Marine Corps discovered specific volatile organic compounds (contaminants) in the drinking water at the base

1982-84: The Navy initiated a cleanup program to identify potentially contaminated sites at the base

1984-85: The base identified affected drinking wells and removed them from service, also notifying base residents

1987-89: Regulations for TCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride were published and became enforceable

1991-92: Regulations for PCE were published and became enforceable

1997: The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) published a public health assessment identifying a past health hazard from exposures to contaminated water at the base

2007: The U.S. Marine Corps launched a notification and registration campaign for former residents to receive more information

2012: President Obama signed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012” into law and the VA started providing health care to those eligible

2016: The ATSDR begins the cancer incidence study to determine whether exposure to contaminated drinking water is associated with increased risks for specific cancers

2017: The ATSDR published the final public health assessment on the health effects of exposure to contaminated drinking water at the base

02

Background

In 1942, the U.S. Marine Corps founded Camp Lejeune as a military training facility in North Carolina. Inhabitants of the base not only consisted of military personnel but families and workers as well.1

In 1982, contaminants were discovered in two of Camp Lejeune's water treatment plants.2

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) played a crucial role in assessing and addressing the health effects of water contamination at Camp Lejeune. According to ATSDR, three water distribution systems (Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard) supplied Camp Lejeune with water contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOC).1

03

Contaminants

Inhabitants between 1953 and 1987 may have been exposed to contaminants3-5, including trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. TCE, PCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride were found in various concentrations, with TCE having a maximum detected level exceeding the EPA limit for drinking water.1

Trichloroethylene (TCE)

TCE is a volatile, colorless, synthetic compound used as a metal degreaser before the 1990s.6

Vinyl chloride

Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen, and highly flammable gas used in plastic manufacturing.7

Benzene

Benzene is a known human carcinogen, and a colorless organic solvent used in various industries.8

PCE

PCE is a volatile liquid used in the dry cleaning industry and as a degreaser.

04

Complications

TCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene are known to cause cancer, while PCE is categorized as a "likely" or "probably" human carcinogen. Humans can be exposed to TCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene through occupational exposure, air, soil, or drinking water.3,5

The ATSDR conducted studies on the health effects of water contamination at Camp Lejeune, finding elevated risks of mortality and certain cancers in exposed individuals.9

Limited research exists on the health consequences of these substances in drinking water, with associations found between TCE and PCE and certain cancers in specific studies.

In their 2017 assessment, the ATSDR noted "below equipose evidence for causation" for PCE, TCE, and vinyl chloride and prostate cancer.10

Cancer

Additionally, in research conducted on Cape Cod, MA, PCE-contaminated drinking water was linked to the development of:1,6,11-13

  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Rectal cancer
  • Female breast cancer
  • Male breast cancer

Non-cancerous Damage

TCE is carcinogenic to humans through all routes of exposure, and it can cause non-cancerous damage in the:14

  • Central nervous system
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Immune system
  • Male reproductive system
  • Developing embryo/fetus

The metabolism of TCE results in the generation of multiple toxicologically active chemicals, including oxidative metabolites like:

  • Chloral hydrate
  • Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
  • Dichloroacetic acid
  • GSH conjugation metabolites like dichlorovinyl glutathione and dichlorovinyl cysteine

Methodological advances have increased the scientific rigor and transparency of data interpretation, such as modeling of TCE toxicokinetics, meta-analyses of epidemiologic studies, and assessments of mechanistic and noncancer hazard information.14

05

Strength of available evidence

Adverse Health Effects

  • Strength of evidence: HIGH
    • Evidence demonstrates clear correlations between toxins found in the Camp Lejeune drinking water and adverse health effects
06

Works Cited

[1]

Bove FJ, Ruckart PZ, Maslia M, Larson TC. Mortality study of civilian employees exposed to contaminated drinking water at USMC Base Camp Lejeune: a retrospective cohort study. Environ Health. 2014;13:68. URL

[2]

Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: Hadnot Point Water Modeling Reports and Studies | ATSDR. Published May 9, 2019. URL

[3]

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Camp Lejeune Overview and History | Camp Lejeune | ATSDR. Published February 14, 2020. Accessed May 4, 2022. URL

[4]

US Marine Corps. Camp Lejeune|Historic Drinking water-Timeline. Accessed May 4, 2022. URL

[5]

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. ATSDR - Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: Water Modeling - Summary. Published December 16, 2019. Accessed May 5, 2022. URL

[6]

Ruckart PZ, Bove FJ, Shanley E, Maslia M. Evaluation of contaminated drinking water and male breast cancer at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: a case control study. Environ Health. 2015;14:74. URL

[7]

Guha N, Loomis D, Grosse Y, et al. Carcinogenicity of trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, some other chlorinated solvents, and their metabolites. Lancet Oncol. 2012;13(12):1192-1193. URL

[8]

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database | Benzene | Accessed May 4, 2022 URL

[9]

Guyton KZ, Hogan KA, Scott CS, et al. Human health effects of tetrachloroethylene: key findings and scientific issues. Environ Health Perspect. 2014;122(4):325-334. URL

[10]

ATSDR Assessment of the Evidence for the Drinking Water Contaminants at Camp Lejeune and Specific Cancers and Other Diseases. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Published January 13, 2017. Accessed May 9, 2022. URL

[11]

Aschengrau A, Ozonoff D, Paulu C, et al. Cancer risk and tetrachloroethylene-contaminated drinking water in Massachusetts. Arch Environ Health. 1993;48(5):284-292. URL

[12]

Paulu C, Aschengrau A, Ozonoff D. Tetrachloroethylene-contaminated drinking water in Massachusetts and the risk of colon-rectum, lung, and other cancers. Environ Health Perspect. 1999;107(4):265-271. URL

[13]

Vieira V, Aschengrau A, Ozonoff D. Impact of tetrachloroethylene-contaminated drinking water on the risk of breast cancer: using a dose model to assess exposure in a case-control study. Environ Health Glob Access Sci Source. 2005;4(1):3. URL

[14]

Chiu WA, Jinot J, Scott CS, et al. Human Health Effects of Trichloroethylene: Key Findings and Scientific Issues. Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121(3):303-311. URL

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