What Happened at Camp Lejeune?

what happened at Camp Lejeune

Those who were harmed by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune can now apply for compensation from the federal government. Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps camp in Jacksonville, North Carolina, that had contaminated water sources after decades of exposure to dangerous pollutants and chemicals. As many as one million individuals, including military personnel, their families, and civilian workers consumed the water through drinking, cooking, and bathing from 1953-1987.


Why are Camp Lejeune lawsuits being filed decades later?


On June 22, 2022, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act 2022 was passed by the U.S. Senate.


The new bill allows veterans, their families, and civilian workers who were at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, for at least thirty consecutive days, to file a claim for monetary compensation from the United States government. The new law also extended the statute of limitations for filing such claims in North Carolina. In other words, the new legislation extended the deadline for filing claims in North Carolina.


Despite Camp Lejeune’s water sources were found to be contaminated in the 1980s, victims that consumed the unsafe water have just now in 2022 been given an opportunity to seek justice for the injuries caused by the contaminated water. After decades of uncertainty, including multiple investigations and reports into the cause of the contamination in the water supply at Camp Lejeune, families are finally able to get answers. To understand more about the key events that have led up to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act 2022, please read the following timeline.


1941: Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is constructed and the Hadnot Point family housing unit and its drinking water operations begin.


1952: Tarawa Terrace’s family housing unit and its drinking operations open at the Camp Lejeune base.


1953: The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) estimates that Hadnot Point drinking water was contaminated in 1953.


1957: The ATSDR estimates that Tarawa Terrace drinking water was contaminated in 1957.


1972: Holcomb Boulevard (HB), another housing unit at Camp Lejeune, begins its operations at Camp Lejeune.  


1974: Congress passes the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974 to regulate the nation’s water supply and protect public health. The law would later be amended in 1986 and in 1996, and applies to rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater wells.


1980: The first warnings regarding the safety of the water wells at Camp Lejeune surface. The laboratory of the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency collects water samples at Camp Lejeune on October 21, 1980, and performs tests on those samples. The results of the samples are analyzed over the next year.


1982-1984: Multiple tests show high levels of contaminants in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. The groundwater from two Camp Lejeune water treatment plants, Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace, were found to have the following contaminants: Trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. Based on scientific and medical evidence, all of these chemicals are harmful to humans and likely carcinogenic.


In 1982, testing revealed that TCE (trichloroethylene) was the main contaminant, and it was detected at the level of 1,400 parts per billion (ppb) in May 1982. But the safety limit for TCE in drinking water is 5 ppb, which made it nearly 300 times the “safe” limit.


By 1984, test data revealed water contaminants at Hadnot Point Industrial Area, which had a benzene level of 380 parts per billion (ppb). Illustrating the toxicity of the water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the maximum contaminant limit for benzene exposure at only 5 ppb.


1985: Hadnot Point water treatment plant is shut down. The Hadnot Point water treatment plant is contaminated by multiple sources, including leaking underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites. Contaminants at this treatment site included TCE, PCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride.


During the dry spring and summer months between the years of 1972-1985, the contaminated water from Hadnot Point was used to supply water to Holcomb Boulevard (HB), thus affecting residents there.


1987: Tarawa Terrace (TT) shuts down its water treatment plants.

The Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was contaminated with PCE because of the waste disposal practices of an off-base dry-cleaning business.


1987-1989: The SDWA regulations for TCE, benzene, and vinyl chloride, all contaminants found in Camp Lejeune’s groundwater, are published in the Federal Register in 1987. These standards became enforceable in 1989.


1989: In 1989, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes Camp Lejeune on the National Priorities List, which is a list of sites that are deemed national property because of their known or threatened release of contaminants, pollutants, and hazardous substances to human health. When a site is placed on the list, the EPA recognizes that the site will need further investigation.


1991-1997: The Government Accountability Office reports that the  “ATSDR initiated a public health assessment evaluating the possible health risks from exposure to the contaminated drinking water” beginning in 1991. The ATSDR  states that individuals and their families who were exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune may have health programs such as types of cancer, birth defects as a result of the contaminants trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, benzene and other volatile organic compounds in the water sources.


1997: The ATSDR issues a public health assessment required by law under the Superfund statute (1989). The ATSDR publishes a report of the investigation into the contaminants in Camp Lejeune’s water system. The investigation would later be found to contain errors in its omission of the degree of benzene contamination at Camp Lejeune. The 1997 report stated the following:


“Volatile organic compound (VOC) levels in three base

drinking water systems (Tarawa Terrace, Hadnot Point, and

Holcombe Boulevard) were a health concern until 1985 when the use

of contaminated wells stopped. Well contamination was caused

from leaks in off-base and on-base underground tanks that were

installed in the 1940s and 1950s. Human exposure to

trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and 1,2-

dichloroethylene (DCE) in drinking water systems at MCB Camp

Lejeune have been documented over a period of 34 months, but

likely occurred for a longer period of time, perhaps as long as

30 years.”



1999-2002: ATSDR conducts a survey by phone to parents who were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune during the timeframe of 1968-1985. The survey was designed to collect data to identify reported cases of birth defects and childhood cancers in children who were exposed to the contaminants while in utero. In 2002, the results of the survey reveal  106 confirmed cases of children with specific birth defects and types of cancer.


2003-2005: The Department of Justice and EPA investigates the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and found there to be no evidence of a conspiracy to conceal.


2005-2007: A notification and registration campaign is launched to allow former Camp Lejeune residents and their families to sign up for more information by phone or internet.


2009: The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies published a study called “Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune–Assessing the Potential Health Effects.” Congress mandated the study under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (Public Law 109-364, 109th Congress). Per the legislation, the Secretary of the Navy and the National Academy of Sciences were to conduct a comprehensive review and evaluation of Camp Lejeune’s water sources, specifically as it related to the potential exposure of trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) to those who lived and worked at the camp.


That same year, the 1997 ATSDR Public Health Assessment was retracted because new scientific and medical information that revealed the amount of benzene contamination in Camp Lejeune’s water sources challenged the results of the assessment.


Also, in 2009, the first Camp Lejeune lawsuit was filed by a woman who lived at Camp Lejeune with her husband in the early 1980s. Laura J. Jones, the victim, said that drinking the contaminated water caused her to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


2010: In 2010, Congress conducts a hearing on the issues related to water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The hearing questioned ATSDR’s failure to adequately investigate exposures to another toxic contaminant found in the Camp Lejeune water supply: benzene, among many other issues that raised doubts about the transparency of the scientific investigation of the water supply at Camp Lejeune.


That same year, the ATSDR began a mortality study, which included data to determine the causes of death “for military and civilian personnel who lived/worked at Camp Lejeune between specific dates in the 1970s and 1980s.


2011: In 2011, the ATSDR conducts health surveys by mail. Persons who were living and working at Camp Lejeune were asked about 20 different types of cancers and given an opportunity to report diseases that were not previously surveyed.


2012: President Obama signs the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012” into law. The VA begins providing health care to eligible Camp Lejeune Veterans and their families and reimburses families for previous health care costs. Families and veterans can now file claims through the VA for compensation if they had medical records and proof of residence at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 consecutive days from August 1953 through December 1987.


2013-2016: Various surveys and studies analyzed the types of birth defects and diseases that could occur due to the result of exposure to the contaminants in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. These studies included the following areas:


  • Mortality study
  • Adverse Birth Outcomes Study
  • Male Breast Cancer Study
  • Cancer Incidence Study


2017: On January 20, 2017, the ATSDR reports public health assessment regarding the harmful health effects of human exposure to the contaminants in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water. Also, in 2017, the U.S. government sets aside $2 billion for veterans to receive disability benefits as it related to diagnosis of leukemia, liver cancer, Parkinson‘s disease and 12 other categories of illness.


2019: By 2019, nearly 4,400 claims are filed as a result of harm from the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. In the same year, the U.S. Navy denies all the claims by saying that the U.S. military had the legal authority to pay these claims. Different from claims with Veteran Affairs (VA), these claims sought to sue for damages as a result of the harm from the drinking water at Camp Lejeune.


2022: The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 is signed into law in June 2022. The law allows all veterans and their families, along with civilian workers, to sue the federal government. The statute of limitations, meaning the amount of time for which victims who suffered as a result of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune can sue, is up to two years. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 now makes it possible for veterans and civilians to file lawsuits against the U.S. government so that they may receive benefits and compensation for any damages, including illness and death, suffered as a result of exposure to contaminated finished water on the base.