With the passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, the federal government has opened the door for service members and their families to pursue claims against the federal government based on the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. While this is a welcome development, there are decades of history behind the Act. Service members and their families have been limited in their ability to obtain any meaningful compensation for years, and while the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 changes that, it is important for anyone who is suffering from any of the many Camp Lejeune health conditions understands the Act, as well as what led to its passage.
If you or a loved one served or lived at Camp Lejeune and subsequently developed cancer, recent legal developments may entitle you to financial compensation. To learn more about your rights, and how to pursue a claim against the federal government, please see our recent piece on the topic here.
Camp Lejeune Timeline
Construction for Camp Lejeune began in 1941 in Onslow County, which is in the southeastern region of North Carolina. Construction of the base was completed the following year.
1952: Tarawa Terrace Water Treatment Plant Becomes Operational
The Tarawa Terrace water treatment facility—one of two major treatment facilities that were responsible for distributing the contaminated water—was built to provide clean water to the residents of Tarawa Terrace, which is one area of Camp Lejeune. In only a few years, the water treated and distributed by the Tarawa Terrace water treatment facility would become dangerously contaminated.
1953: Contamination Has Begun In Hadnot Point Water System
Hadnot point is another area that was part of the original Camp Lejeune design plans. To accommodate residents, the government constructed the Hadnot Point water treatment facility around the same time. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, by August 1953, the water distributed through the Hadnot Point water system was already affected by the toxic chemicals.
The year 1953 is also important under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 because this is the year that starts the eligibility period defined under the Act. Thus, anyone who lived, worked or was stationed at the base since August 1, 1953, may be eligible for compensation.
1957: The Water Distributed Through the Tarawa Terrace Water System Starts to Become Contaminated
While the Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace water treatment facilities were built around the same time, it wasn’t until a few years later that the water at the Tarawa Terrace treatment facility started to get contaminated. By November 1957, water processed through the Tarawa Terrace treatment and distribution system is thought to have been contaminated, based on estimates by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s data analysis.
1972: Holcomb Boulevard Water System Commences Operations
A new water system called the Holcomb Boulevard water system began operations in 1972, serving areas that included Paradise Point, Midway Park, and Berkeley Manor. These areas were previously served by the Hadnot Point water system. Water from the Holcomb Boulevard system was generally considered safe. However, due to the base’s infrastructure, water from the Holcomb Boulevard water system was supplemented by contaminated water from the Hadnot Point water system at times. As a result, those who lived in these areas may still have been exposed to toxic chemicals.
1980-1982: Water Testing Reveals Contamination at Camp Lejeune
In 1980 and 1981, the Marine Corps sampled drinking water at Camp Lejeune to test for certain chemicals in the water, per EPA standards. However, this testing revealed “other chemicals [that] interfered with results” of the tests.
The following year, in 1982, the Marine Corps identified the contaminants trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene or PCE), detected at levels above the EPA standards for safe drinking water. These chemicals were identified in the water supply of two of the eight water treatment plants on the base in 1982 – Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water treatment facilities.
1982-1984: The Marines and Navy Seek to Determine the Scope of Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune
At this point, the federal government, through the Marine Corps, knew that the water supply at Camp Lejeune was contaminated. However, the government did not know the extent of the contamination. The next step was to investigate which sites were contaminated. From 1982 to 1984, the Navy was charged with identifying sites of potential contamination and testing the nearby drinking water wells for contaminants.
1985-1987: The Federal Government Shuts Down Contaminated Water Plants
The federal government shut down the “most contaminated” wells on Camp Lejeune by 1985, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. However, because this was a time-consuming process that didn’t remove all contaminants at once, it wasn’t until the end of 1987 that the water was completely safe.
This is another critical date under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, as December 31, 1987, ends the eligibility period under the Act. Thus, those who lived, worked or were stationed at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, may be eligible to bring a claim.
1987-1989: Standards for Additional Volatile Organic Compounds Are Added to the Standards Established Under The Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1972. However, at that time, the standards for the levels of TCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene—all of which were among the chemicals detected in contaminated water at Camp Lejeune—were not included in the Act. It wasn’t until 1987 that regulations pertaining to these dangerous Camp Lejeune chemicals were published in the Federal Register.
1999: The Marine Corps Begins Notifying Former Camp Lejeune Residents of the Health Risks They Faced
It wasn’t until 17 years after the Marine Corps first knew that Camp Lejeune’s water was contaminated that it began notifying former residents and service members who were stationed on the base that they may have been exposed to toxic chemicals. In subsequent years, the government has yet to come up with a legitimate reason for this delay, adding to the frustration of those families who were affected by this tragedy.
2009: The Wife of a Former Marine Files the First Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Lawsuit
Laura Jones, the wife of a former Marine, became the first person to file a lawsuit against the United States government over the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Jones and her husband lived at Camp Lejeune from 1980 to 1983. The house that they lived in received its drinking water from one of the contaminated water treatment plants at Camp Lejeune.
In her Camp Lejeune lawsuit, Jones claimed that she was exposed to dangerous chemicals through the Camp’s water supply, including TCE, PCE, DCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene. She alleged that this exposure led her to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).
2012: President Obama Signs the Camp Lejeune Families Act Of 2012 into Law
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012” into law. Under this new law, service members who served at Camp Lejeune could start receiving health care benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, provided they met certain eligibility requirements. Additionally, the Act permitted eligible family members to be reimbursed for health care costs pertaining to qualifying conditions through the Camp Lejeune family member program.
2017: Veterans Begin to File for VA Benefits Claims Due to Exposure to Contaminated Water
In January 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs published a final rule establishing presumptive service connection in claims for compensation for service members stationed at Camp Lejeune. The VA began accepting claims for compensation and paid approved claims out of a $2.2 billion fund intended to cover these claims over the next five years. Unfortunately, due to legal hurdles along the way, many seemingly eligible veterans were denied compensation.
2021: Lawmakers Take a Renewed Interest in Permitting service members’ Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Claims
In 2021, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was introduced in Congress. If passed, this law would remove many of the loopholes that prevented many Camp Lejeune service members and their families from receiving financial compensation. However, the Act still imposes strict eligibility requirements. For example, service members must have been on-base for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, to bring a claim. Additionally, service members bringing a case have the burden of establishing a causal connection between their health condition and the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
2022: The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 Passes the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate
On January 25, 2022, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was presented to the U.S. House of Representatives, and, in March, the House passed the bill. From there, the bill moved to the U.S. Senate, where it passed by a vote of 84 to 14. The next step is for the bill to be put in front of President Joe Biden for his final approval. If President Biden signs the bill, it will become law.
If the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 becomes law, it is likely that many service members will have a challenging time proving eligibility, based on the amount of time that’s passed and the strict eligibility requirements. An experienced toxic tort attorney can assist service members, their family members and their representatives in understanding their rights and pursuing the compensation they deserve.