Home > Blog > How the Honoring Our Pact Act Helps Camp Lejeune Veterans

American veterans are held in high esteem for the sacrifices these brave people have made to protect others. Veterans who completed training or served at Camp Lejeune, however, may have suffered long-term effects from water contamination that occurred there in the 1980s. Fortunately, the government is taking steps to rectify the damage and compensate victims accordingly.

History of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Camp Lejeune was established in 1942 as a US Marine Corps Base Camp in North Carolina, and it is still in operation today. It consists of about 11,000 acres. The position of the camp along the beach made it an ideal place to test amphibious weapons as well as perform gun training and other military exercises.

Unsafe levels of contaminants were found in the water at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s through the 1980s—up to 3,400 times the amount permitted in drinking water. During that time, thousands of military members and their families lived on the base and drank, cooked with, and bathed in contaminated water.

The contamination was not discovered until the 1980s, at which time the water was tested to comply with EPA regulations. Possible sources of the Camp Lejeune water contamination include a nearby dry-cleaning company, the chemicals used to clean military equipment, and leaks from underground storage tanks. In total, over 70 chemicals were found to have contaminated the water.

Most of the contamination was found in two of eight wells. The base was warned about it in 1982 but did not take action until late 1984 when they started to shut down the contaminated wells. The rest were shut down in 1985.

Chemicals Found in Camp Lejeune Water

Although investigations revealed dozens of chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were among the ones that caused the most concern.

  • Perchloroethylene (PCE): PCE was the main contaminant found in the water. It is a dry cleaning solvent and originated from the dry cleaner just off base at Camp Lejeune.
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE): When left in groundwater for too long, PCE degrades into different compounds, including TCE. This process led to the presence of TCE in the water at the base.
  • Vinyl chloride: Vinyl chloride also results from the degradation of PCE. 
  • Benzene: The presence of benzene, which is known to cause cancer, in the water was originally overlooked. It is thought that the benzene in the water at Camp Lejeune came from a leaking fuel tank. 
  • Strontium-90: A document from 1981 pointing to a radioactive dump site near Camp Lejeune was discovered in 2007. According to the report, there was strontium-90 in the water, a cancer-causing isotope.

Effects of Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune on Health

It was not until 1999 that former residents of Camp Lejeune began to receive notifications that they may have been exposed to toxic water during their time at the base. Many former residents had no idea or inclination that the birth defects, cancers, and other illnesses they had been experiencing had an explanation tying back to their time in the military. 

The list of potential conditions and side effects related to toxic water exposure at Camp Lejeune is long, as is the list of personal stories from those who have developed them. For example, 9-year-old Janey Ensminger died of leukemia in 1985 after being born on base and living there with her family. Her father Jerry Ensminger, is the one who discovered the document indicating the presence of strontium-90 in the water. 

Thousands of people were exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune and suffered ill health as a result. Conditions linked to the water include several types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple myeloma, and myelodysplastic syndromes (a group of disorders that prevent blood cells from developing properly). Many of these people have contacted lawyers like Kirkendall Dwyer LLP to pursue justice in the years following.

The Janey Ensminger Act

The first attempt at providing healthcare for veterans affected by water contamination at Camp Lejeune came in the form of a law called the Janey Ensminger Act. The law laid out 15 conditions found to be caused by toxic water at Camp Lejeune. The government agreed to provide medical care to those who had lived at the base between 1957 and 1987 and developed one of the conditions on the list. 

Compensation for Camp Lejeune Victims: The Honoring Our PACT Act

Camp Lejeune veterans who were exposed to contaminants now have a new avenue to pursue compensation under the Honoring Our PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) Act. The new law was signed by President Joe Biden in August 2022 and covers a variety of toxic exposures, including Camp Lejeune’s water among others throughout history. The passage of this law makes it easier for veterans suffering from illnesses related to the contaminated water to pursue compensation, which may help them cover medical care or other related expenses and losses.

In Section 804 of the PACT Act, titled the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, it is stated that anyone who “resided, worked, or was otherwise exposed” at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days may file a lawsuit “…to obtain appropriate relief for harm that was caused by exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune.” (PACT Act, 2022). In-utero exposure is included in the 30-day requirement. In order to qualify for benefits, a veteran must not have been dishonorably discharged.

Speak With a Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawyer

Veterans and family members who were exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune between August 1953 and December 1987 and became ill as a result may contact a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawyer like Kirkendall Dwyer LLP to file a claim. We can evaluate your case to ensure that you fit all of the requirements under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, then guide you through the process of pursuing your claim. Contact us today to get started.