The drinking water supply at USMC Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was contaminated with alarming levels of carcinogenic chemicals from 1953 through the late 1980s. This government response to this disaster led to some of the studies comprehensive public health surveys ever conducted to assess how contaminated water was affecting the health of Camp Lejeune residents and employees.
Public health studies and other scientific research have developed definitive evidence that this exposure to Lejeune’s contaminated water resulted in an increased risk of lung cancer. Congress is about to enact a new federal law that will give Camp Lejeune victims the right to file civil lawsuits and obtain compensation.
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A Brief History of the Camp Lejeune Water Disaster
Camp Lejeune is one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the nation, covering a wide stretch of the North Carolina coast just north of Wilmington, NC. The base opened in 1941 and has been used by the USMC continuously since then. Camp Lejeune is not only a military base, but also a small community with schools, hospitals, housing, etc. At any one time, approximately 50,000 people live at Camp Lejeune and thousands more work there every day.
For over 3 decades, from August 1953 to December 1987, Camp Lejeune’s drinking water supply was contaminated with incredibly high levels of chemicals known as chlorinated solvents. The 2 industrial solvents in Lejeune’s water were perchlorethylene (PCE) and trichlorethylene (TCE). Levels of PCE and TCE in Lejeune’s water system were several thousand times higher than the EPA’s maximum safe limits.
It has been estimated that over the 34-year period, more than one million people were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. These include Marines and their families as well as civilian employees.
Health studies link lung cancer to water contamination at Camp Lejeune
The water contamination at Camp Lejeune has been described as one of the worst environmental disasters in US military history. Public outrage over the incident prompted a number of major public health studies that sought to quantify the negative impact of Lejeune’s contaminated water on the long-term health of those exposed to it.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), part of the CDC, has been conducting extensive research and studies of Camp Lejeune’s health since 1991. ATSDR’s work at Lejeune has included advanced modeling of estimated contamination levels in water systems of Lejeune for decades.
Exposure and contamination modeling data compiled by the ATSDR has enabled several epidemiological studies to assess the extent to which employees and residents of Camp Lejeune have been injured by water. These studies assessed various health effects, including birth defectsunfavorable results at birth, cancerand mortality rates.
The National Research Council (NRC) published a report in 2009 titled Contaminated Water Supply at Camp Lejeune: Assessment of Potential Health Effects (NRC Report) which was one of the first major studies on the health impact of Lejeune water. The NRC report found sufficient evidence of an association between Camp Lejeune water exposure and higher rates of lung cancer.
In 2012, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) established a special committee of leading experts (the “VA Committee”) to conduct a detailed review of available studies and evidence and submit clinical advice to the VA on the conditions of health that can definitely be linked to water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The Clinical guidance reports released by the VA committee identified lung cancer as one of 8 illnesses clearly associated with water contamination in Lejeune.
In 2014, the ATSDR released the results of its Long-Term Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study for Camp Lejeune Staff and Employees (the “ATSDR Study”). The ATSDR study found that Camp Lejeune residents and employees exposed to contaminated water had a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer and dying from lung cancer compared to a control group.
The ATSDR data also showed that the increased risk of lung cancer was directly correlated with the extent of exposure to contaminated water. People most exposed to and most consuming contaminated Lejeune water had the highest rates of lung cancer.
About lung cancer
Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the United States with approximately 230,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Lung cancer is responsible for 142,000 deaths in the United States each year, more than any other type of cancer.
Lung cancer comes in 2 different types: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The 5 year old survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer (all stages combined) is 23%. For small cell cancer, the overall 5-year survival rate is even lower at 7%. This makes lung cancer one of the most dangerous types of cancer.
New law allowing Camp Lejeune claims for lung cancer
For a long time, victims of the Camp Lejeune disaster were barred from pursuing civil lawsuits for their injuries due to a strict legal restriction in North Carolina. To address this obvious injustice, however, veterans’ advocacy groups have successfully pressured Congress to act. Lawmakers are now preparing to pass a new federal law that will give Camp Lejeune victims the right to sue for their injuries.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which was merged into a much larger veterans benefits bill called the Honoring Our Covenant Act (PACT Act), was first passed by the House in March. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill in June 2022 and returned it to the House for approval.
Certain tax provisions that the Senate added to the bill drew objection from the House, but on July 13 the House passed a further revised version of the Senate bill. Now, the new version of the bill is back in the Senate for approval and is expected to pass before the midterm elections.
When the CLJA is finally enacted, victims of Camp Lejeune water pollution will have a 2-year window to file tort suits against the government for injuries related to water contamination. The law expressly bypasses North Carolina’s rest statute that previously blocked all claims.
The CLJA creates a lowered standard of proof for causation. Under § (b)(2) of the CLJA, plaintiffs can prove a relationship between Camp Lejeune water and their alleged injuries based on a single epidemiological study:
(2) youSE STUDIES.—A study in humans or animals, or from an epidemiological study, which has excluded chance and bias with reasonable confidence and which has concluded, with sufficient evidence, that exposure water described in paragraph (a) is a possible cause of the damage, shall be sufficient to satisfy the burden of proof described in paragraph (1).
CLJA § (b)(2). This language seems to suggest that CLJA claimants will not need to retain expert witnesses to support their claims as long as they can cite a study showing that their injury is associated with Camp Lejeune.
The VA Clinical Guidance and ATSDR study could potentially be accepted as in itself proof of causation for lung cancer claims under the CLJA. This means that people making claims under the CLJA for lung cancer may not need to present expert evidence in support of causation.
How much are lung cancer cases worth at Camp Lejeune?
No one knows for sure how much Camp Lejeune’s CLJA claims for lung cancer might be worth. When the CLJA is finally enacted, there will be a handful of variables that could significantly impact the potential value of these claims on a case-by-case basis.
Although we cannot be certain, we can make an educated guess about the potential settlement value of Camp Lejeune’s lung cancer lawsuits by examining settlements and verdicts for lung cancer tort cases. precedents such as medical malpractice. Based on this, we believe that lung cancer cases at Camp Lejeune under the CLJA could have an average value between $200,000 and $450,000.
Contact us about a Camp Lejeune Lung cancer Court case
If you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and were subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer, contact our office today to find out if you are eligible to file a claim.