It started decades ago. From 1953 through 1987 Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune had a problem. A big problem. Not only was their drinking water unsafe … it was downright dangerous. The water was contaminated with plastics and pesticides and other dangerous materials. Anyone exposed to this toxic water was at an increased risk of developing cancer and other diseases.
Even more concerning? The government did not fix the problem.
How serious was exposure to the toxic water?
Experts found four dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals in this water: trichlorethylene, perchloroethylene, benzene, and vinyl chloride. It is important to note that the exposure concern applies to anyone at the base. This means although exposure included veterans, it also reached out beyond our servicemembers to include their families as well as civilian workers.
Because the levels of these four toxins were so high, a dangerous exposure rate was possible for those who lived or worked at the camp for as little as a month.
Illnesses connected to exposure include:
- Cancer. Victims report the development of bladder, liver, lung, kidney, breast, esophageal and other cancers because of exposure.
- Birth defects. Mothers exposed while pregnant also report having children with birth defects.
- Miscarriage and infertility. Women at the base at that time also reported an increased rate of miscarriage or long-term issues with fertility.
- Parkinson’s disease. The toxins are also known to lead to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s.
This list does not encompass all the possible diseases that can result from exposure. Symptoms of exposure and illness development can be different for each individual exposed to these toxins.
What options are available?
Our legal system is set up to allow victims to hold the responsible party accountable for wrongdoing. Unfortunately, in this situation, the date of exposure is a problem. There is often a time limit, or statute of limitations, that limits how long victims have from exposure or development of a disease or illness to file a claim against the responsible party. In this case, the courts have held that the victims have missed their opportunity.
That may all change.
Will Camp Lejeune victims be able to file lawsuits?
Lawmakers have passed a law that expands the time limit that otherwise blocked these claims. If it becomes law, it will provide a window for victims to file their claim and receive compensation. These means these victims can get the funds necessary to help cover the costs associated with the development of these diseases due to exposure to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
Both the Senate and House have passed this law. It now awaits President Biden’s approval. This seems likely. During a speech in June, President Biden called on the public to provide the support needed to get these laws passed as part of the Honoring our PACT Act of 2021.
He got that support. Now we wait for him to move the law forward.
What happens if this proposal becomes law?
The victims can move forward with a claim. This may mean gathering evidence and filing paperwork at the appropriate time in the right venue. Understanding the process can help better ensure victims are more than just a step closer to relief — it can help them cross that finish line.