One of the biggest environmental health crises in recent years has been the contamination of public water supplies by toxic chemicals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that although the US boasts one of the world’s safest drinking water, there is still room for improvement in the safety of the water we use for various purposes, such as drinking, swimming, and cooling high-rise buildings. Shockingly, approximately 7.2 million people in the country fall ill every year as a result of waterborne diseases.
In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into one such incident, the contamination of Camp Lejeune’s drinking water with contaminated solvents and industrial chemicals from 1953 to 1987.
This exposure seriously affected the health of thousands of Marines and their families who drank contaminated water for decades.
Camp Lejeune is a US Marine Corps base located in North Carolina. Established in 1941, the base is named after John A. Lejeune, a former commandant of the Marine Corps. It covers over 246 square miles and is home to a population of over 170,000 military personnel, their families, and civilian employees.
Over the years, Camp Lejeune has served as a key training and deployment center for Marines and other military units, including during World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War. The base is also home to several schools, hospitals, and recreational facilities, making it a self-contained community within Jacksonville.
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Water Contamination Incident
The water contamination incident at Camp Lejeune occurred between the 1950s and the 1980s. The primary sources of contamination were two on-base industrial sites that released a range of toxic chemicals into the groundwater, including trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). These chemicals were used in a variety of applications, including as degreasers for machinery and as dry-cleaning solvents.
Despite concerns raised by base residents and employees, the military did not take action to address the contamination until the late 1980s. It was only in 1997 that the military officially recognized the extent of the contamination and began efforts to clean up the affected areas.
The response of the military to the water contamination incident has been criticized by many as inadequate and slow. In particular, some have criticized the military for not notifying residents of the contamination until years after it was first discovered and for not providing adequate support and compensation to those affected by the contamination.
According to AboutLawsuits.com, It is believed that exposure to Camp Lejeune water may have caused over 50,000 cases of breast cancer, 28,000 cases of bladder cancer, and 24,000 cases of renal cancer, along with numerous other health complications such as Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, thousands of unborn children who were exposed to contaminated water while in utero are believed to have suffered from birth defects and wrongful death.
Exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune has been linked to a range of long-term health consequences. Studies have found that those exposed to contaminated water are at increased risk for a variety of health conditions, including various types of cancer (such as leukemia, liver cancer, and bladder cancer), as well as neurological disorders, reproductive problems, and congenital disabilities.
Lawsuit Information Center states that apart from the adverse health effects on veterans and their families, the presence of TCE at Camp Lejeune has also resulted in environmental repercussions. The contamination has transcended the base boundaries and has impacted the neighboring communities. Several nearby private wells have tested positive for TCE and other harmful chemicals, leading to reports of illnesses such as cancer that could be attributed to the contamination.
The full extent of the health consequences of the Camp Lejeune water contamination incident is still being studied, and ongoing research is needed better to understand the long-term impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals.
Studies and Research
Several scientific studies and research have been conducted on the health effects of exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. These studies have used various methodologies, including cohort and case-control studies, to assess the risk of various health outcomes associated with exposure to contaminated water.
The findings of these studies suggest that exposure to toxic water is associated with an increased risk of cancer, neurological disorders, reproductive problems, and birth defects. However, some studies have limitations, such as small sample sizes or lack of individual-level exposure data. Further research is necessary to fully understand the long-term health effects of exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune.
Legal and Policy Implications
The Camp Lejeune toxic water lawsuit has had significant legal and policy implications. Numerous lawsuits have been filed by those affected by the contamination, resulting in several settlements with the government and private companies.
According to TorHoerman Law, LLC (THL), one of the leading lawyers in the case, the water at Camp Lejeune potentially exposed more than one million individuals to the harmful effects of contaminants. Those who may have been impacted by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune include not only veterans but also family members, workers, and other individuals.
The incident also led to regulatory changes, including the establishment of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which provides a legal framework for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites.
The government has faced criticism for its slow and inadequate response to the contamination, leading to calls for greater accountability and transparency. The incident has also raised awareness of the need for stronger environmental regulations and protections to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Public Health Recommendations
To prevent future water contamination incidents, public health officials, military personnel, and other stakeholders should prioritize regular monitoring and testing of water sources for the presence of toxic chemicals. If contamination is detected, immediate action should be taken to prevent further exposure, such as providing alternative sources of clean water. Additionally, efforts should be made to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in industrial and commercial applications.
Efforts should be made to improve access to healthcare and support services for those affected to mitigate the health effects of past water contamination incidents. This includes providing regular health screenings and monitoring for those who were exposed, as well as mental health services, to address the psychological impact of the contamination.
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Government agencies and private companies responsible for the contamination should also provide adequate compensation and support to those affected, including covering medical expenses and providing financial assistance for those who have suffered long-term health consequences.
While there are still many unanswered questions about the long-term health consequences of exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune, we know enough to take action now. We must continue to study this issue and identify ways to prevent similar disasters from happening again in the future.