For decades, the Camp Lejeune toxic water contamination case has been a dark mark on the United States military’s history. Between the 1950s and 1980s, over a million people were exposed to toxic water at the U.S. Marine base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, leading to devastating health consequences for many.
While the government has taken steps to address the issue, victims of the disaster have long felt that they have been ignored and mistreated. Thankfully, there are new developments going on behind the scenes that may get things moving quicker. Let’s explore this further.
Some Context: What is The Camp Lejeune Case All About?
From the 1950s to the 1980s, the United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina experienced a series of environmental and health problems, which came to be known as the Camp Lejeune disaster or the Camp Lejeune water contamination.
This contamination was caused by the release of toxic chemicals into the base’s drinking water supply. These chemicals included industrial solvents such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), as well as benzene and other dangerous substances.
This situation of toxic water contamination went undetected for decades, and it is estimated that about one million people, including Marines and family members, were exposed to contaminated water.
The health effects of exposure to the harsh chemicals found in the water have been devastating. It is believed that the contamination has led to a significantly increased risk of cancer, birth defects, and other serious illnesses. In fact, the Camp Lejeune disaster is considered one of the worst cases of drinking water contamination in U.S. history.
The U.S. government has acknowledged the responsibility of the Marine Corps for the contamination and its failure to respond to the issue properly. In 2012, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act was signed into law, providing healthcare to those affected by the contamination.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has also recognized several illnesses associated with the incident, making affected individuals eligible for disability compensation. However, 80% of filed claims were rejected for one reason or the other.
Several Developments Through the Years But to What Extent?
The Camp Lejeune disaster has been a long-standing issue that has faced various developments and challenges over the years. Let’s look at some of them:
1. Early investigations: The contamination at Camp Lejeune was first detected in the early 1980s, but it took several years for the extent of the problem to be fully understood. Investigations were conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Marine Corps, and third-party agencies.
2. Cleanup efforts: In the 1980s and 1990s, the Marine Corps began implementing cleanup efforts to address contamination. These efforts included drilling new wells, removing contaminated soil, and other measures. However, some critics argue that these efforts were not sufficient to address the problem fully.
3. Legal battles: Over the years, numerous lawsuits have been filed by victims and their families seeking compensation for their illnesses and injuries. Some of these lawsuits have been successful, while many others have been dismissed or left in a state of limbo.
4. Government response: In 2012, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act was passed, providing healthcare to those affected by the contamination.
Despite these developments, many victims and their families feel that they have not received adequate help and support. Some have criticized the government’s response as slow and insufficient, and there have been ongoing calls for further action to address the health and financial needs of those affected by the disaster.
Additionally, some have argued that the government has not done enough to hold responsible parties accountable for the contamination and its effects.
What is Changing now?
In 2022, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was enacted and allowed a two-year period for affected veterans, military families, and other individuals to sue the U.S. government for compensation.
Many believe that this will speed things up, but to what extent remains to be seen. The Act mandates that all litigation related to water pollution at Camp Lejeune must be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which has been granted exclusive authority over the cases.
There is a lot of expectation that this will finally help fast-track payout for Camp Lejeune victims
According to Tor Hoerman Law, LLC, a law firm based out of Illinois, the new act means that those seeking justice can now file a lawsuit directly against the federal government. Tor Hoerman Law, LLC has been involved for some time in this case, with many of their clients being those affected by the contamination.
At present, a multitude of lawsuits are distributed among multiple judges within the district, and the parties involved are pressing the Court to implement coordinated pretrial procedures for better case management.
To address this issue, the federal judges in the district have agreed to establish a Master Docket for all Camp Lejeune lawsuits.
According to the order, Camp Lejeune injury attorneys will need to file requests for consideration to serve on a Plaintiff’s Leadership Council or Plaintiff’s Steering Committee by May 26, 2023.
The order also specifies that if the court decides to establish a leadership structure, it will request suggestions for developing a Master Complaint and Master Answer.
A process for consolidating discovery, expert-related motions, dispositive motions, and selecting a small group of “bellwether cases” that will be prepared for early trials to help guide Camp Lejeune settlement negotiation is also likely.
For many veterans and victims of the contamination, these developments should hopefully speed things up. It would be a shame if the government delayed compensation to such an extent that it is too late for people even to receive it.
The toxic water contamination at Camp Lejeune is sadly not the only instance that has happened in recent years. A military base in Ohio also had a similar story with contamination happening from PFAS chemicals, also known as forever chemicals. One would think that a lesson would have been learned, yet here we are again.