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Health Effects from Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Navy and Marine personnel and family members living or serving at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, were exposed to high levels of contamination in the drinking water. This water was also used for bathing, showering, cooking, doing laundry and even preparing baby formula.

Although the military became aware of the contamination by 1980, residents of Camp Lejeune were not warned, and the U.S. Marines made no effort to remedy the situation until 1987. Over a million individuals were exposed, and many of these individuals have suffered dire health consequences.

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Their Stories

The following stories are examples of how the lives of service members and their families were forever altered because of these health effects.

The Tragic Death of Janey Ensminger

Janey Ensminger, daughter of now-retired Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, was conceived, born and raised on the base at Camp Lejeune. At the age of six years old, she was diagnosed with strep throat, which failed to respond to antibiotics. A month and a half later, lesions appeared on Janey’s torso, leading to a diagnosis of leukemia. 

After three years of painful treatments that included chemotherapy, spinal taps and bone marrow extractions, Janey succumbed to her illness in September 1985 at the age of nine. By this time, the Marine Corps knew about the water contamination. However, Master Sergeant Ensminger only learned about the contamination through a news report in 1997.

Paula Twitty Bushman

Paula Twitty Bushman worked as a paralegal while stationed at Camp Lejeune. During her time on the base, she miscarried two children. The first miscarriage took place while she was four months pregnant. The doctor informed her that her child had not formed correctly. Her second miscarriage occurred while she was eight months pregnant.

Later in life, long after leaving the base, Ms. Bushman successfully gave birth to healthy twins, but she developed chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, two conditions that she attributes to her service at Camp Lejeune.

Willie Copeland

At just 55 years old, Willie Copeland suffers from end-stage kidney disease that has led to the loss of both legs, significant portions of his hands and many of his teeth. He also suffers from skin lesions. According to his doctor of more than 15 years, the exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune is the most logical explanation. There is no history of kidney disease in Mr. Copeland’s family.

Mike Partain

Mike Partain was born at Camp Lejeune, and at the age of just 39 years old, he was diagnosed with male breast cancer. According to Dr. Clapp, an epidemiologist from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell who was interviewed for a 2013 NBC News report, the outbreak of male breast cancer in men who lived at Camp Lejeune may be the largest outbreak ever seen.

According to the report, breast cancer in men is exceedingly rare, with only one case for every 100 women diagnosed with the condition. Yet by 2013, Mr. Pertain had been able to identify 83 other men who lived at Camp Lejeune and developed breast cancer.

Learn more: History of Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune 

dirty contaminated water

What substances were Camp Lejeune residents exposed to?

Service personnel and family members who lived on the base were exposed to the following toxic substances through Camp Lejeune water contamination:

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
    • Tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PCE
    • Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE
  • Benzene
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAs, or “forever chemicals”

What are the health effects of these substances?

The impacts of the contaminating substances have been devastating and undeniable. While many conditions are common, many victims also suffer symptoms that are not officially recognized.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are gases that are emitted from certain chemicals, which may be solids or liquids. These chemicals, many of which are used in industrial and military applications, may build up in soil or groundwater when stored or disposed of improperly. A New York government document has reported that certain VOCs, specifically PCE and TCE, in the soil can evaporate and build up to hazardous concentrations in homes, similar to how radon gas accumulates. This is known as vapor intrusion.

This means Camp Lejeune residents may have been exposed to these harmful substances both by drinking the water and breathing the air inside their homes, hospitals, schools and other buildings on the base. 

According to the report, long-term health effects are more likely than short-term effects, and newborns and children are more susceptible. This is because children breathe up to two and a half times more air per pound of body weight, and they drink more water.

PCE

According to the EPA, health effects of PCE exposure include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Neurological effects
    • Impaired cognitive performance
    • Impaired neurobehavioral performance
    • Epilepsy 
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Liver impairment
  • Immune system impairment
  • Blood disorders
  • Developmental disorders
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Cancer
    • Bladder cancer
    • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
    • Multiple myeloma
    • Cervical cancer 
  • Birth defects
    • Oral clefts
    • Neural tube defects

TCE

The EPA has identified the following health effects of TCE exposure:

  • Central nervous system issues
    • Dizziness
    • Headaches
    • Confusion
    • Euphoria
    • Facial numbness
    • Weakness
  • Liver disorders
  • Kidney malfunction
  • Immunological disorders
  • Endocrine system disorders
  • Developmental effects
  • Cancer
    • Kidney
    • Liver
    • Lung
    • Testicular
    • Lymphoma
  • Birth defects
    • Congenital heart defects if the fetus is exposed during early pregnancy

Benzene

According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to benzene has been linked to the following health effects:

  • Leukemia 
    • Myeloid leukemia
    • Acute and chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Other blood-related cancers
    • Multiple myeloma
    • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Harm to bone marrow
    • Anemia
    • Low white blood cell count
    • Low platelet count
    • Damage to reproductive organs
      • Shrinkage of the ovaries
  • Birth defects

According to the New York Department of Health, benzene can also pollute indoor air through vapor intrusion.

Vinyl Chloride

According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to vinyl chloride has been linked to the following cancers:

  • Hepatic angiosarcoma (a rare form of liver cancer)
  • Brain cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Birth defects
  • Miscarriages

The New York Department of Health has reported that vapor intrusion of vinyl chloride from the soil can also occur in buildings.

PFAs (“Forever Chemicals”)

Health effects associated with forever chemicals are as follows:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Bladder cancer
department of veterans affairs

Does the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledge these effects?

The VA provides a presumption of service connection when veterans or their family members contract certain conditions if they lived or served at Camp Lejeune for a period of at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987. 

The 15 presumptive conditions for the purpose of medical benefits for family members or veterans include the following:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

The eight presumptive conditions for disability compensation purposes are as follows:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

Disability compensation is available only to veterans.  

If you have a condition that you believe is connected to water contamination at Camp Lejeune, you are encouraged to file a claim even if your condition is not listed.

Related: How to File a Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Claim

Contact Meirowitz & Wasserberg for Help with Your Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Case

If you are facing a devastating health diagnosis or chronic health issues that impact your daily life, you may be entitled to compensation. Camp Lejeune water contamination victims have long faced legal barriers to filing civil claims for their rightfully deserved compensation. Thanks to the passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act, Camp Lejeune veterans and their families finally have a window of opportunity to receive justice.

Our law firm is accepting cases now. We are an award-winning law firm with a national reputation for excellence with offices in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas. 

In anticipation of a large number of claims, we are accepting cases now. We are an award-winning law firm with a national reputation for excellence with offices in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas. 

You or your family member served our country with honor. You have already been forced to wait too long for our country to honor your sacrifice. Our firm is proud to play a role in making it happen. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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