The History of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The history of Camp Lejeune’s water contamination reads like fiction, but the drama, deceit, and heartbreak are very real for thousands of service members. The unforgettable stories of civilians and veterans exposed to Camp Lejeune water contamination are difficult to hear but impossible to ignore. An estimated one million people stationed or employed on base during the historic water contamination scandal at Camp Lejeune are at risk of developing cancer and other diseases, if they haven’t already.

Anyone living or working at Camp Lejeune when the water was contaminated should understand the chemicals found, what diseases may result from exposure to them, and how to recover.

When Was Camp Lejeune Water Contaminated? 

The water was contaminated at Camp Lejeune from 1953 until 1987. The map of Camp Lejeune water contamination covered a lot of ground where service members spent the majority of their time living, training, and working. Veterans and civilians who once lived at Camp Lejeune now live in fear that their date of service aligns with the timeline of exposure to the contamination, and for nearly one million people, it does.

The Pollutants in Camp Lejeune Water

A class of chemicals referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was discovered in the water at Camp Lejeune. Of the many compounds identified, the most alarming of these were trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has been studying these chemicals and the history of water contamination at Camp Lejeune for years. This agency analyzed contaminant levels to provide estimates of the VOCs in the water on base. The toxins were present up to 280 times the permitted levels as established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ATSDR cancer incidence study further concluded that Camp Lejeune service members exposed to these toxins experience higher rates of disease.

Sources of Contamination at Camp Lejeune

The map of Camp Lejeune water contamination includes three treatment and distribution plants: Hadnot Point, Tarawa Terrace, and Holcomb Boulevard. These facilities supplied the base housing units, medical centers, schools, and offices. 

Areas of Camp Lejeune With Contaminated Water 

Water from Tarawa Terrace served family housing and the Knox trailer park where many couples and children lived. Hadnot Point plant supplied the Mainside barracks and Hospital Point family housing, and the plant also served family housing at Midway Park, Paradise Point, and Berkeley Manor during certain years. 

Other base facilities where civilians and veterans were exposed to Camp Lejeune water included administrative offices, schools, and recreational areas. 

The Controversial Actions Following the Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Discovery

One of the most troubling aspects of veterans’ exposure to toxins in Camp Lejeune water was the inaction and cover-up by the Government. The initial sampling showed several hazardous VOCs, and nothing was done for years after the issues were known. In fact, it would not be until 1987 that some kind of action was taken to mitigate the risk of veterans’ exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. 

Instead of protecting service members from the hazardous compounds, the Government concealed findings, allowing residents to drink and bathe in contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Past residents weren’t given official notifications about the water contamination studies and confirmed health problems until decades after TCE and PCE were found.

The Impact of Exposure to Camp Lejeune Water

The long timeline of the period during which Camp Lejeune water was contaminated and the widespread map of toxic water on the base affected countless service members and their families forever. Men, women, and children faced devastating health effects from PCE, TCE, and other compounds then and many still do today.

Because the water systems serviced a majority of the family housing units and barracks, young families and single enlistees of reproductive age experienced a high rate of fertility complications, miscarriages, and cardiac birth defects in children born at Camp Lejeune. But it wasn’t only infants and the unborn who struggled to survive. Chronic and fatal health conditions, depression and emotional pain, and financial hardships have transformed veterans’ retirement years into a nightmare. 

The toxins in Camp Lejeune water caused irreversible conditions, many taking effect long after veterans left the service. Though Parkinson’s disease and debilitating cancers may compromise Camp Lejeune veterans’ health, these conditions do not diminish the willingness of these men and women to speak up and fight back against the injustices of the toxic water scandal.