In 1982, the U.S. Marine Corps learned that members of the U.S. military, their families, and civilians who spent 30 days or more at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC were exposed to toxic chemicals in the base’s water supply over a 34-year period from 1953-1987.
There were four core chemicals — trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride (VC) and benzene — and 70 secondary chemicals identified in the water.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) confirmed that toxic water consumed by base residents and workers led to debilitating health conditions including bladder, breast, esophageal, kidney and lung cancer; Female infertility; Leukemia; Miscarriages; Multiple Myeloma, Neurobehavioral effects; Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; and Renal Toxicity.
Adults as well as children suffered or died in the decades since the findings were made public. Many of the lives lost were of babies and young children. One journalist reporting on the Camp Lejeune water crisis in 2014 referred to parts of cemeteries near Camp Lejeune with the graves of babies and children – often two or three bodies per grave – as “Baby Heaven.” One Camp Lejeune survivor conducting independent research was able to confirm over 200 small graves in at least two local cemeteries. There are likely other babies and children buried at those cemeteries or possibly at other nearby sites but many of the names on grave markers are illegible and city records are incomplete.
Efforts to bring relief to the victims of Camp Lejeune have consistently fallen short. Because North Carolina enforces a strict 10-year statute of repose, thousands of victims have been unable to file claims in court. North Carolina is the only state where such a statute exists. While the statute was recently amended for future cases, it does not apply retroactively and subsequently does nothing for Camp Lejeune victims who would like to file a claim but are outside the 10-year window to do so.
Finally, in January 2017, the Obama administration implemented a disability claims process through the VA. To date, approximately 71,400 Camp Lejeune victims have filed for disability claims but just five percent have been treated for a recognized condition.
Due to the North Carolina law and the muted response from the federal government, most victims were left to fend for themselves without justice. To address the lack of legal recourse for Camp Lejeune victims, Congress was forced to step in.
In March 2021, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was filed in the House by Representatives Cartwright (D-PA), Murphy (R-NC) and Price (D-NC) and is co-sponsored by more than 50 others. If passed, the bill would allow Camp Lejeune victims to exercise their constitutional right to legal action — just like any other civilian in any other of the 49 states in the nation can.
The state of North Carolina, the federal government and military have not done enough to assist the men and women in uniform who passed through Camp Lejeune from 1953-1987 and honor their service and the sacrifices their families also made for our country. They should not be forced to wait any longer for justice.
Lejeune Justice is a coalition of individuals and veterans organizations, all working on passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.