Camp Lejeune Lawsuit
Camp Lejeune Lawsuit: Senate Bill Would Allow Marines And Their Families To Sue Over Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
June 7, 2022
Author: Daniel Gala
Preeminent Military Training Site Exposed up to 1 Million Marines, Workers, and Their Families to Drinking Water Contaminated with VOCs
Since World War II, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina has been one of the crown jewels of the US military’s training facilities. Presently covering 244 square miles along the Atlantic seaboard, Camp Lejeune encompasses “156,000 acres, 11 miles of beach capable of supporting amphibious operations, 34 gun positions, 50 tactical landing zones, three state-of-the-art training facilities for Military Operations in Urban Terrain and 80 live fire ranges,” according the base’s official website.
“From the supporting infrastructure, a tradition of excellence in doing day-to-day business has evolved. From environmental programs that include a state-of-the-art landfill and water treatment system to quality of life programs that ensure Marine families are taken care of, Camp Lejeune stands out as a superior military base,” the website boasts, adding that “Camp Lejeune is a seven-time recipient of the Commander-in-Chief’s Award for Installation Excellence.”
However, for all of the accolades Camp Lejeune has received and all of the resources it has been given by the US taxpayer, there was one basic necessity it was unable to provide its service members, civilian workers, and their families for over three decades: safe, non-toxic drinking water. Worse yet, as evidence has mounted that the base’s drinking water was long contaminated with known carcinogens, those made sick by the toxins have largely been prevented from suing the parties responsible.
Finally, after decades of advocacy, in March 2022, the US House of Representatives passed HR 3967, known as the Honoring our PACT (Promise to Address Toxic Chemicals) Act. This bill, which presently is awaiting a vote in the Senate, covers a number of matters related to military servicemembers and civilian workers who experienced toxic exposure as a result of their duties. For example, it creates new rules for the treatment of veterans who were exposed to radiation as part of the “cleanup” of Enewetak Atoll, a coral atoll in the Pacific Ocean where the US military conducted extensive nuclear-bomb testing during the Cold War, and for individuals involved in nuclear responses in Palomares, Spain and Thule, Greenland.
Further, buried within “Title VII—Registries, Records, and Other Matters” the bill contains a section devoted specifically to a “Federal cause of action relating to water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.”
That section includes language that, if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, finally would allow the potentially hundreds of thousands of people poisoned by the water at Camp Lejeune to pursue some form of legal recourse for the harms caused to them and their loved ones. The key language reads:
“An individual, including a veteran…or the legal representative of such an individual, who resided, worked, or was otherwise exposed (including in utero exposure) for not less than 30 days during the period beginning on August 1, 1953, and ending on December 31, 1987, to water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that was supplied by, or on behalf of, the United States may bring an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to obtain appropriate relief for the harm that was caused by the exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune.”
Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
The US Marines acknowledge that it was 40 years ago in 1982 that they first identified highly dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water coming from two of Camp Lejeune’s eight water treatment plants. Water from the base’s Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was found to be contaminated with PCE (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene), while water from the Hadnot Point water treatment plant was found to contain primarily trichloroethylene, along with other toxins such as benzene and vinyl chloride.
The Tarawa Terrace water treatment facility began operations in 1952 and was shuttered in March 1987, during which time it provided water to Tarawa Terrace family housing and the Knox trailer park. In February 1985, the toxic contaminant PCE was detected in the water from Tarawa Terrace at a concentration of 215 parts per billion (ppb). Today, the regulatory limit for the amount of PCE allowable in drinking water is 5 ppb.
Further, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR),, a federal public health agency tasked with keeping the public safe from naturally occurring and manmade toxins, “used a data analysis and modeling approach to reconstruct historical contaminant concentrations” and, based on those results, “ATSDR estimated that PCE concentrations exceeded the current EPA maximum contaminant level of 5 ppb in drinking water from the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plan for 346 months during November 1957-February 1987. The most contaminated wells were shut down in February 1985” but the others were allowed to continue operating until 1987.
According to the ATDSR there is strong evidence linking PEC exposure with:
• Bladder cancer
• Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
• End-stage renal disease
Ultimately, the contamination at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment facility was determined to be a result of the waste disposal practices of ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning firm.
The Hadnot Point Water Treatment Plant
The Hadnot Point water treatment facility was roughly as old as the base itself, beginning operation in 1942 and serving the mainside barracks and Hospital Point family housing. Until June 1972, the Hadnot Point plant also served family housing at Midway Park, Paradise Point, and Berkeley Manor.
In May 1982, tests of the drinking water at Camp Lejeune found maximum levels of TCE in the water from the Hadnot Point treatment plant reached as high as 1,400 ppb, or 280 times the current EPA limit of 5 ppb. Additional contaminants detected in the Hadnot Point water included PCE, DCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene.
The contamination of the Hadnot Point water was determined to be caused by leaking underground storage tanks and seepage from waste disposal sites. Based on data analysis and modeling, ATSDR estimated that “[a]t least one VOC exceeded current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant level in drinking water during August 1953 and January 1985.”
According to the ATSDR, there is sufficient evidence to say definitively that TCE causes:
• Kidney cancer
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
• Cardiac defects
Further, available evidence suggests that TCE might cause:
• Liver cancer
• Multiple myeloma
• End-stage renal disease
• Parkinson’s disease
Additionally, benzene has been shown to cause leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and vinyl chloride exposure has been demonstrated to result in liver cancer.
The Victims of Camp Lejeune
The victims of the toxic water at Camp Lejeune span generations and their numbers potentially run into the hundreds of thousands. In some instances, entire families have been decimated by diseases caused by the contaminated drinking water.
Take the Kirby family. Today, Michael Kirby is a 64-year-old stockbroker living in Colorado, but as a child in the 1950s, he, his four siblings, and his parents lived in family housing at Camp Lejeune. The first victim of Camp Lejeune was Michael’s father, Sgt. Gerald “Red” Francis Kirby, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 27 and died at 28.
“My dad was a Purple Heart at 19 years old,” Michael Kirby told the Daily Beast for a piece published May 14. “The Korean War didn’t kill him, but the government did.”
“My dad died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which you are 48 times more likely to get at Camp Lejeune, and the next highest one was leukemia, that’s what my mother Shirley died from,” Michael Kirby continued. “She was diagnosed at 57, she died at 59 years old in 1994.”
In 1996, Michael himself was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and he spent six brutal years fighting the disease, an effort that involved several surgeries and more than a dozen rounds of chemotherapy. Michael survived, but that was not the end of the toll Camp Lejeune would take on the Kirby family. In 2017 came another diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this time for Michael’s brother Jerry.
“We never had any cancer in our family history until Camp Lejeune,” Michael Kirby told the Daily Beast.
Tragically, the Kirby family is far from alone in suffering horrific yet avoidable tragedy due to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 1 million Marines and civilians could have been exposed to the contaminated water, and the damage was not limited to those who were already born. A 2013 study by the ATSDR “confirmed a long-suspected link between chemical contaminants in tap water at the Marine Corps base and serious birth defects such as spina bifida,” Reuters reported at the time.
The Government Response
Despite its own agencies concluding that the toxic water at Camp Lejeune has caused cancer and birth defects and despite its own representatives voicing support for efforts to investigate the causes and scope of the problem, the US government has done notably little to aid the victims of its wrongdoing at Camp Lejeune, including doing practically nothing to help them have their day in court. And what efforts the government has made often have fallen flat.
Despite the US military knowing about the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune since at least 1982, it was not until 2017 that the Department of Veterans Affairs finally announced a new rule offering disability benefits for veterans who had been posted at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987, promising them a piece of $2.2 billion in additional funding if they had been diagnosed with one of the following eight conditions:
• Adult leukemia
• Aplastic anemia
• Bladder cancer
• Kidney cancer
• Liver cancer
• Multiple myeloma
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
• Parkinson’s disease
“We have a responsibility to take care of those who served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service,” then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald told CBS News at the time.
However, recent media reports continue to detail numerous instances of veterans being denied claims for which they seemingly qualify.
“Deny, deny, deny until they die,” Retired Lt. Col. Mark Kotnour said of the VA’s approach to evaluating claims. For a piece published in February 2022, Kotnour told CBS News that the VA denied his claim despite seven different doctors determining that his cancer was caused by his time at Camp Lejeune in 1977.
“They don’t want to step up and do the right thing,” Kotnour said of the VA.
Meanwhile, as the VA, other agencies, and elected officials have dragged their feet in mounting a response sufficient to meet the crisis at hand, a North Carolina state law has blocked victims of Camp Lejeune from seeking justice themselves through the courts. But there are hopeful signs that this situation will be changing soon.
Camp Lejeune Litigation
To date, veterans, civilian workers, and their families seeking to sue the parties responsible for injuries caused by the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune have been completely rebuffed in court due to a North Carolina state law known as a “statute of repose.”
Similar to statutes of limitations, which place limits on the amount of time potential plaintiffs have to file a claim, a statute of repose differs in several significant ways. Most importantly in this context, the time limits imposed by statutes of limitations generally begin to run at the time the injury occurred. By contrast, North Carolina’s statute of repose says that injured parties only have ten years from the time the contamination occurred in which to sue. Because injuries from environmental contamination—such as cancer—can take decades to develop, this creates a legal hurdle that is impossible for many plaintiffs to overcome. While federal law typically supersedes state law under the so-called Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, in this situation, the North Carolina statute of repose has succeeded even in preventing plaintiffs from pursuing federal lawsuits over the toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
However, this all is on the verge of potentially changing quite soon. As mentioned above, on March 22, 2022, the US House of Representatives passed HR 3967, which explicitly would create a federal cause of action for victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination, thereby overcoming the hurdle posed by the North Carolina statute of repose.
Bloomberg Government reported June 3 that the US Senate planned to take up a procedural vote on HR 3967 as early as Monday, June 6.
If passed, the new law would give victims of the toxic water at Camp Lejeune up to two years from the date the act takes effect in which to file lawsuits in the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. However, the law explicitly does not allow for punitive damages and explicitly does not take a position on whether or not the toxic water at Camp Lejeune caused the injuries at issue, leaving that up to future plaintiffs to prove in court.
“The burden of proof shall be on the party filing the action to show one or more relationships between the water at Camp Lejeune and the harm,” Section 706(b) of the House-passed bill states.
Later, the bill clarifies the standard of proof to be applied in Camp Lejeune cases: “To meet the burden of proof…a party shall produce evidence showing that the relationship between exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune and the harm is—(A) sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship exists; or (B) sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship is at least as likely as not.”
Given that multiple US government agencies already have reached the formal conclusion based on extensive research that certain diseases are indeed caused by the dangerous toxins that were present in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune for over three decades, future plaintiffs would have an entire library of scientific evidence already available to support their claims.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The coming days and weeks could provide more meaningful movement in the push to achieve justice for victims of Camp LeJeune’s toxic water than has been achieved over the course of decades. If the Senate passes the bill and President Biden signs it into law—an outcome that is widely expected at this point—then the former workers and residents of Camp Lejeune will get their first ever fair shot at having their day in court. Given that up to one million people may have been exposed to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, the number of lawsuits filed under the new law could quickly grow into the many thousands.
Stay tuned to TheLawFirm.com for the latest developments on Camp Lejeune toxic water litigation!
If you or a loved one were diagnosed with cancer after being exposed for 30 days or more to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, contact TheLawFirm.com for a free legal consultation!
United States Marine Corp. (Accessed 3 June 2022). History. Camp Lejeune.
United States House of Representatives. (Accessed 3 June 2022). Sec. 706. Federal Cause of Action Relating to Water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. H.R. 3967 – Honoring our PACT Act of 2021.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (Accessed 3 June 2022). Background. Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (Accessed 3 June 2022). Summary of water contamination situation at Camp Lejeune. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (Accessed 3 June 2022). Health effects linked with trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride exposure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Falzone, Diana. (14 May 2022). Then the ‘Real Enemy’ Is at Home in the Drinking Water. Daily Beast.
Twedell, Kelly. (6 December 2013). Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Linked to Birth Defects. Reuters.
CBS News. (13 January 2017). Vets exposed to contaminated water may now apply for disability benefits.
Herridge, Catherine and Jessica Kegu. (16 February 2022). “Deny until they die”: Some veterans say VA wrongly rejects claims for illnesses they blame on Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water. CBS News.
Ross, Michaela. (3 June 2022). What to Know in Washington: Biden Pleads with Congress on Guns. Bloomberg Government.