The drinking water supply at the Camp Lejeune USMC base in North Carolina was contaminated with alarmingly high levels of carcinogenic chemicals from 1953 thru the late 1980s. This government response to this disaster has led to some of the most extensive public health studies ever done to assess how the contaminated water affected the health of the Camp Lejeune residents and employees.
Both the public health studies and other scientific research has developed definitive evidence that that exposure to the contaminated water at Lejeune led to an increased risk of lung cancer. Congress is very close to enacting a new federal law that will give Camp Lejeune victims the right to bring civil claims and get compensation.
Camp Lejeune Lawsuits
Camp Lejeune Bladder Cancer
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Short History of Camp Lejeune Water Disaster
Camp Lejeune is one of the biggest Marine Corps bases in the country, covering a huge expanse of the North Carolina coastline just north of Wilmington, NC. The base first opened in 1941 and has been used by the USMC continuously since then. Camp Lejeune is not just a military base, but also a small community with schools, hospitals, housing, etc. At any given time about 50,000 people live at Camp Lejeune and thousands more work there every day.
For over 3 decades beginning in August 1953 to December 1987, the drinking water supply at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with incredibly high levels of chemicals known as chlorinated solvents. The 2 industrial solvents in the water at Lejeune were perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). The levels of PCE and TCE in the Lejeune water system were several thousand times over the EPA maximum safe limits.
It has been estimated that over the 34-year period, over 1 million people were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. These include Marines and their families as well as civilian employees.
Health Studies Link Lung Cancer to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
The water contamination at Camp Lejeune has been described as one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the U.S. military. Public outrage over the incident prompted a number of major public health studies which sought to quantify the negative impact the contaminated water at Lejeune had on the long-term health of those who were exposed to it.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the CDC, has been performing comprehensive research and health studies of Camp Lejeune since 1991. The work of the ATSDR at Lejeune has included advanced modeling of the estimated contamination levels in the Lejeune water systems going back decades.
The exposure and contamination modeling data compiled by the ATSDR has enable several epidemiologic studies to be done to evaluate just how much Camp Lejeune employees and residents were harmed by the water. These studies have evaluated various health outcomes including birth defects, adverse birth outcomes, cancer, and mortality rates.
The National Research Council (NRC) released a report in 2009 entitled Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing Potential Health Effects (NRC Report) which was one of the first major studies on the health impact of the Lejeune water. The NRC Report found sufficient evidence of an association between exposure to the Camp Lejeune water 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 the available studies and evidence and submit clinical guidance to the VA on what health conditions can be definitively linked to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The Clinical Guidance reports published by the VA Committee identified lung cancer as 1 of 8 disease that was clearly associated with the water contamination at Lejeune.
In 2014, the ATSDR published the results of its long-term mortality and cancer incidence study for the Camp Lejeune personnel and employees (the “ATSDR Study”). The ATSDR study found that Camp Lejeune residents and employees who were exposed to the contaminated water had a substantially 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 to the extent of exposure to the contaminated water. Those individuals with the most exposure and use of the 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 U.S. with around 230,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Lung cancer accounts for 142,000 deaths in the U.S. 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 survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer (all stages) is 23%. For small-cell cancer, the overall 5-year survival rate is even lower at 7%. This makes lung cancer one of the more dangerous types of cancer.
New Law to Allow Camp Lejeune Claims for Lung Cancer
For a long time, victims of the Camp Lejeune disaster have been precluded from bringing civil tort lawsuits for their injuries because of a strict legal restriction in North Carolina. To address this obvious injustice, however, veterans’ advocacy groups have successfully lobbied Congress to take action. Lawmakers are now preparing to pass a new federal law that will give Camp Lejeune victims the right to bring claims for their injuries.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which has been merged into a much larger veteran benefits bill called the Honoring Our Pact Act (PACT Act), was first passed by the House in March. The Senate pass an amended version of the bill in June 2022 and sent it back to the House for approval.
Certain tax provisions that the Senate added into the bill prompted an objection by the House, but on July 13 the House passed a newly revised version of the Senate bill. Now the new version of the bill is back to the Senate for approval again and it is expected to pass before the mid-term elections.
When the CLJA eventually gets signed into law, victims of the Camp Lejeune water pollution will have a 2-year window to file tort lawsuits against the government for injuries related to the water contamination. The law expressly circumvents the North Carolina statute of repose which 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 the Camp Lejeune water and their alleged injuries based on a single epidemiological study:
(2) USE OF STUDIES.—A study conducted on humans or animals, or from an epidemiological study, which ruled out chance and bias with reasonable confidence and which concluded, with sufficient evidence, that exposure to the water described in subsection (a) is one possible cause of the harm, shall be sufficient to satisfy the burden of proof described under paragraph (1).
CLJA § (b)(2). This language appears to suggest that CLJA claimants will not need to retain expert witnesses to support their claims as long as they can cite to a study showing that their injury is associated with Camp Lejeune.
The VA Clinical Guidance and the ATSDR Study could potentially be accepted as per se evidence of causation for lung cancer claims under the CLJA. This means that individuals who bring claims under the CLJA for lung cancer may not need to present expert evidence in support of causation.
How Much are Camp Lejeune Lung Cancer Cases Worth?
Nobody knows for certain how much Camp Lejeune claims under the CLJA involving lung cancer could be worth. When the CLJA is eventually enacted, there will be a handful of variables that could significantly impact the potential value of these claims on a case-by-case basis.
Even though we can’t be certain, we can make an educated guess about the potential settlement value of Camp Lejeune lung cancer lawsuits by looking at settlements and verdicts for lung cancer in prior tort cases such as medical malpractice. Based on this, we believe that Camp Lejeune lung cancer cases under the CLJA could have an average value between $200,000 and $450,000.
Contact Us About a Camp Lejeune Lung Cancer Lawsuit
If you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and were subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer, contact our office today to see if you may be eligible to file a claim.