Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022
History and Updates
James T. Johnson
Senior Civil Litigator
North Carolina Trial Attorney
Illness Linked to Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
Fertility and Birth Defects related to Toxic Water
In 2013 the CDC released the results of a study that determined that thousands of pregnant women were exposed to toxic water at the base over a 30-year period. While infertility and miscarriages have been linked to toxic water, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry [ATSDR] found that maternal exposure resulted in a significantly higher rate of birth defects, specifically 5 times higher than normal.
In utero exposure to contaminated water or fetal gestation, led to an increased risk of children having a wide range of birth defects, childhood cancers, and even the development of adult cancers and illnesses. Sadly, many children have suffered the tragic effects of chemicals found in the water and died very young.
Non-Cancer Health Conditions and Diseases linked to Water Contamination
Cancer is not the only health illness that has been linked to the toxic compounds found at Camp Lejeune. PCE and TCE have also been known to cause various other health conditions and diseases such as:
- ALS [ Lou Gehrig's Disease]
- Parkinson’s disease
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Aplastic anemia and other bone marrow conditions
- Cardiac defects
- Brain damage
- Infertility and miscarriages
- Hepatic Steatosis
- Fatty liver disease
- Myelodysplastic syndrome
- Renal Toxicity
- Immune disorders
- As well as birth defects and injuries
Cancer Linked to Exposure to Water Toxicity
The VOCs found contaminating the water supply at Camp Lejeune for 30 years are known to be especially harmful to the body and linked to various cancers, diseases, neurologic disorders, and birth defects.
Scientific and medical research has shown that exposure to TCE and PCE are directly linked to higher rates of certain cancers. The list of cancers directly linked to exposure and consumption of harmful chemicals from the Camp Lejeune water include:
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Bladder cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Lung cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Multiple myeloma
What is Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?
The water contamination at Camp Lejeune is the worst public water supply contamination in US history. Approximately 750,000 individuals were exposed to water containing some of the highest levels of carcinogenic chemicals ever seen over a 30-year time span. Service members, their families, and other civilians working at the base were exposed to tainted water from 1953 to 1987. They unknowingly drank the water, cooked with it, bathed in it, and washed their clothes in it. This toxic exposure led to a long list of health issues such as cancer and birth defects for countless individuals.
What contamination was discovered?
The toxic volatile organic compounds [VOC] and carcinogenic chemicals that heavily contaminated the water supply at Camp Lejeune included: trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride (VC). The levels of these contaminants found were among the highest ever recorded for drinking water in US history.
The most troubling of the VOCs are TCE and PCE, which are chemicals used for dry cleaning and metal degreasing, or for cleaning metal equipment and machinery. These two compounds have been recognized as “probable human carcinogens” with exposure being linked to the development of certain cancers. At Camp Lejeune, the levels of PCE were found to be 215 ppb, or 43 times the EPA’s maximum safe level of 5 ppb, and the levels of TCE were even higher at 1,400 ppb with a safe level of 5ppb.
Is there a Camp Lejeune Class Action Lawsuit?
Currently, there is not a class action lawsuit. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 is a pending new federal law that, when passed, would permit eligible persons to file a lawsuit to recover damages from being exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. Any lawsuit filed before the CLJA of 2022 is passed will be dismissed due to a North Carolina statute of limitations law.
Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed the CLJA. As of August 1, the Act is awaiting President Biden’s signature. Its passage will open the door for lawsuits to be filed in the U.S. District Court in North Carolina. Regardless of where you may currently reside, all lawsuits will be heard in North Carolina. Additionally, it is expected all the lawsuits filed will be consolidated in an MDL class action. However, the CLJA will likely have a deadline of 2 years for lawsuits to be brought from the time it is enacted.
Why is the CLJA different from prior lawsuits previously attempted?
The CLJA will supersede the North Carolina Statute of Repose that has prevented victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination from getting justice or compensation. The statute of repose prevented many from filing a lawsuit against the federal government as it limited the time frame to seek damages to a maximum period of 10 years regardless of whether victims knew of the injuries or their cause within the said time period. Effectively blocking those who were injured by the water at Camp Lejeune from filing suits.
This is what happened in 2016 when approximately 850 former Camp Lejeune residents attempted to bring suit against the United States in a multidistrict class action litigation, Straw vs. United States. The lawsuits were dismissed due to the Statute of Repose in North Carolina. These dismissals sparked outrage throughout the country and rightfully so as the claims were not dismissed due to lack of merit but rather a legal loophole. As a result, the CLJA was put into motion.
How do I prove eligibility for CLJA?
The CLJA defines who is entitled to file a suit seeking damages for exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and states “those who can prove they lived or worked, or were otherwise exposed”. The “otherwise exposed” is a catch-all term to include those individuals who may not have lived or worked at the base but were exposed to toxic water.
In order to prove exposure documentation would need to be produced showing that they lived or worked at the base during the relevant time period for at least 30 days. For those service members and their families, military service records would be sufficient to show the dates they were stationed at Camp Lejeune. For civilians, employment records such as social security employment history or other employment verification records should be sufficient. For those that are unable to provide documentation, it is critical that you contact an attorney to assist you in locating and securing documents. While a claim can still be filed, you will have the burden of showing eligibility without supporting documents.
For individuals filing a wrongful death action for lost loved ones, it will still be necessary to provide the appropriate documentation showing that your loved one resided, worked, or was otherwise exposed to the tainted water for the designated time period. An attorney can assist you in locating the necessary documents.
What if I am receiving VA Benefits for the Camp Lejeune water contamination?
Many veterans and families have already sought benefits offered by the VA and rightfully so, however, these benefits are insufficient and don't replace a reasonable settlement due to victims. Even if you have received, or are receiving benefits from the VA, please know that does not preclude you from filing a lawsuit under the CLJA. If you are receiving VA benefits for your exposure please contact us today to discuss your options for filing a lawsuit once the CLJA is passed. For more information on the benefits offered by the VA, see our blog here.
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