The water contamination at Camp Lejeune put those living on the Marine base at risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals that could cause severe injuries. For many years, those suffering from illnesses like bladder cancer, leukemia, and liver cirrhosis could not pursue compensation for damages because of North Carolina’s statute of repose. This did not allow personal injury claims to be filed ten years after an incident, making it impossible for victims affected by the contaminated water to file Camp Lejeune water contamination claims.
President Biden passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act on August 10th, 2022, which allowed Camp Lejeune's contaminated water victims to file claims. However, the Camp Lejeune water contamination claims have so far failed to yield any results for victims looking for justice and financial restitution. Camp Lejeune water contamination victims are still awaiting financial compensation for their damages, with years-long lawsuits possibly being on the table.
Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps Base located in Jacksonville, North Carolina that serves as a warfighting platform to prepare troops for deployment. Those staying at the base between 1953 and 1987 could have been exposed to dangerous carcinogens that caused adverse health conditions.
Servicemembers, their family members, and others living at the base could have been exposed to contaminated water they used for cooking, showering, drinking, etc. There were two facilities at Camp Lejeune with contaminated water: Tarawa Terrace Facility and Hadnot Point Treatment Plant Facility. Both had their water contaminated by carcinogens through industrial spills, poor chemical disposal, and the leakage of underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites.
The four carcinogens that contaminated the water at Camp Lejeune were perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene. Those living at Camp Lejeune were exposed to contaminated water, putting them at risk of suffering severe illnesses and health conditions like renal toxicity, brain cancer, and pancreatic cancer. The exposure to toxic water also affected pregnant women living at Camp Lejeune, whose children were born with birth defects that affected their standard of living.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act Allows Camp Lejuene Victims to Pursue Compensation
For a long time, Camp Lejeune toxic water victims received very little support or compensation for their damages. They could not pursue compensation through personal injury claims due to North Carolina’s statute of repose, which imposed a 10-year window on all personal injury claims. The Veteran’s Administration (VA) also excluded Camp Lejeune toxic water victims from benefits that can help pay for their illnesses and adverse health conditions.
On August 10th, 2022, President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which finally provided Camp Lejeune water contamination victims a chance to recover compensation for their damages. People that were stationed at, lived in, or were in utero at Camp Lejeune between August 31st, 1953 and December 31st, 1987 for at least 30 days and suffered a severe illness codified by the Camp Lejeune Justice Act could file a claim.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act allowed victims that suffered severe damages due to Camp Lejeune’s toxic water to file an administrative claim until August 10th, 2024 with the Judge Advocate General for the Department of the Navy. The Department of the Navy is given six months after the filing of an administrative claim to approve or deny the claim, with Camp Lejeune toxic water victims able to file a Camp Lejeune contaminated water lawsuit if their claim is denied.
The Death of Ann Johnson’s Daughter Connected to Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water
Many Camp Lejeune contaminated water victims are waiting to see if they can recover compensation for Camp Lejeune toxic water damages. Ann Johnson lived at Camp Lejeune for a couple of years with her father, who was a Marine master gunnery sergeant. While there, she met her future husband, a future Marine whom she married at 18. While living there with her father and husband, she drank and bathed in contaminated water without knowing of the water’s toxic elements.
Her exposure to contaminated water would eventually take the life of her child, Jacquetta. Ann Johnson gave birth to Jacquetta in the spring of 1984. Her daughter was born with a small right eye that could not open, a contracted right hand, and a cleft palate that prevented her from breathing on her own. Jacquetta passed just seven weeks later when she passed out in the car while Ann was playing with her. After taking her to the hospital, the doctors could do nothing to save Jacquetta, and she passed away.
The death of Jacquetta caused a strain in the relationship between Ann Johnson and her husband, eventually leading to their divorce. Her ex-husband remarried and had children without birth defects, leading to Ann Johnson feeling responsible for the birth defects her late daughter suffered from. Now, Ann Johnson is one of the thousands of Camp Lejeune toxic water victims pursuing compensation for damages through the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.
Greg Sexton Looking for the Marine Corps to Admit Fault About Camp Lejeune
Greg Sexton is another Camp Lejeune toxic water victim who has filed a claim to pursue compensation and justice for his toxic water damages. Sexton lived in Camp Lejeune for the summer of 1977 while visiting his father stationed at the Marine base. When he turned seventeen, he was diagnosed with a Wilms tumor, which is a cancerous kidney tumor caused by immature kidney cells. The Department of Veteran Affairs has linked kidney cancer to the dangerous chemicals found in the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
The cancer eventually spread to Mr. Sexton’s lungs, and he had to get surgery. The adverse health conditions caused by Camp Lejeune’s toxic water caused physical and emotional damage to Greg Sexton as a teenager. “It was an emotional, tough thing to go through as a teenager. I had never really been in love or had a steady girlfriend or anything like that. I was just a kid … You start thinking, ‘Oh, man, I’m never gonna have this in my life?’” He has now filed a Camp Lejeune contaminated water claim with the goal of the Marine Corps admitting their fault and making things right for the thousands affected by the toxic water at the Marine base.
Camp Lejuene Contaminated Water Victims Have Yet to Recover Compensation
Van Arsdale is a lawyer representing about 6,000 clients that were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Of his roughly 6,000 clients, 96.3% were enlisted, and 3.7% were officers. Despite filing thousands of claims since August, none have them have reached a settlement yet. Camp Lejeune water contamination victims have had a hard time recovering compensation for their damages thus far. If a Camp Lejeune water contamination claim is not settled after six months, the victim will have to file a lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina, which could extend the pursuit of compensation for damages for years.
All of these Camp Lejeune water contamination claims are being overseen by the US Navy, which has admitted that no claims have been adjudicated. The spokesperson for the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Patricia Babb, gave the following statement regarding the claims process: “The Navy’s Admiralty & Claims Division already is fully operational. Processing begins upon claim receipt; the initial step includes in-processing and initial evaluation. Currently, the Navy is primarily focused on this step. At this stage, no claims are fully adjudicated.”
Military Officials Knew of Camp Lejeune's Water Contamination
Part of the evidence used against the Marine Corps in Camp Lejeune toxic water claims is that military officials knew of the water contamination for years before anything was done. William Neal Jr., the chief of laboratory services for the US Army Environmental Hygiene Agency, warned of the water’s contamination in both 1980 and 1981.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry measured 1,400 parts per billion of trichloroethylene in the water at Camp Lejeune in 1982, which is 280 times the level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There were 215 parts per billion of PCE found at the Tarawa Terrace, which housed enlisted men and their families in February 1985. This is 43 times the acceptable levels defined by the EPA. It wasn’t until this was discovered that the most contaminated water wells were closed off by the Marine Corps.
However, the Marine Corps did not issue a mass health warning. Instead, the base commander said the wells had “minute amounts of several organic chemicals.” People living at the base did not learn of the severity of the water contamination for fourteen years after 1985 when they were contacted about a survey for the Agency for Toxic Chemical Substances and Disease Registry. The failure to let residents of Camp Lejeune know of the water contamination led to deaths and negatively affected lives, with people possibly being able to pursue medical treatment if they knew of the carcinogens in the water.