What Caused the Water Contamination at USMC Camp Lejeune?

When people comment on a local phenomenon, they sometimes use the old saying, “it must be something in the water.” For thousands of people who became ill after living or working at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, it really was in the water. Water contamination was eventually discovered.

unaware woman drinking contaminated water

From 1953 through 1987, the water supply at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with high amounts of a host of toxic chemicals in two of the eight water treatment plants. Marines and other service members, their families, and civilian workers who spent time there were unknowingly exposed to these chemicals daily. No one told them that the water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated. Many developed serious illnesses after the exposure, even during pregnancy, long after their time at Camp Lejeune ended.

How It Happened

The first contamination occurred when the off-base company ABC One-Hour Cleaners spilled and improperly disposed of their cleaning chemicals. Ultimately those chemicals ended up in the Tarawa Terrace water treatment system. PCE, or Perchloroethylene, was the primary chemical found in water from Tarawa Terrace.

The dry cleaners began operating in 1953, so it’s presumed that the contamination started at that time. Additional chemicals in smaller amounts were believed to have little impact on the water.

Hadnot Point’s water supply was contaminated with multiple substances and sources, with TCE being the most prominent contaminant. Chemicals seeped in through:

• Drums at storage lots and dumps

• Underground storage tank leaks

• On-base spills from industrial sites that were not properly contained and cleaned

Over time, the chemicals in the spills added up. The contaminated wells were finally closed between November 1984–May 1985, and Tarawa Terrace was closed entirely in 1987.

The Chemicals In The Water

Four main chemicals were identified after the contamination discovery:

Trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent used to clean metal parts

Perchloroethylene (PCE), used in both metal degreasing and dry cleaning

Benzene, a base chemical used in the manufacture of other chemicals that create plastics, resins, nylon, and synthetic fibers.

Vinyl Chloride, manufactured to create PVC for a wide variety of plastic products such as piping, packaging materials, cable, and wire coatings

The Marine Corps discovered the contamination in 1982. Several volatile organic compounds (VOC) were detected in three of the eight water treatment plants that provided water to the base, including base housing. The Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard facilities were primarily responsible for the family housing units and unmarried troop barracks.

Unfortunately, residents and former residents were not notified of the contamination until 1985, long after many became ill and/or died from their illnesses.

Camp Lejeune Claim? Contact The Herren Law Firm Today

Until recently, only veterans could request help through the VA for their medical conditions. After the signing of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, family members and civilian workers can now file a claim for compensation due to the harm they suffered from the contaminated water.

If you or someone you know became ill after working or being stationed at Camp Lejeune, contact us immediately for help filing your claim.

We’ve helped over 4,000 people, and we can help you as well. Contact us today by calling (713) 682-8194 or using our online contact form our consultation is free, and you won’t owe us a fee until we win your case.

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