What Caused Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?

Written By:
Jessie Paluch
Jessie Paluch

Attorney Jessie Paluch, founder of TruLaw, has over 25 years of experience as a personal injury and mass tort attorney, and previously worked as an international tax attorney at Deloitte. Jessie collaborates with attorneys nationwide — enabling her to share reliable, up-to-date legal information with our readers.

This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy and clarity by the team of writers and legal experts at TruLaw and is as accurate as possible. This content should not be taken as legal advice from an attorney. If you would like to learn more about our owner and experienced injury lawyer, Jessie Paluch, you can do so here.

TruLaw does everything possible to make sure the information in this article is up to date and accurate. If you need specific legal advice about your case, contact us by using the chat on the bottom of this page. This article should not be taken as advice from an attorney.

What Caused Camp Lejeune Water Contamination? Let's Discuss.

What Caused Camp Lejeune Water Contamination; testing the water

Question: What caused Camp Lejeune water contamination?

Answer: The water contamination at Camp Lejeune primarily occurred due to a chemical contamination at two (2) water treatment plants — Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point.

From 1953 to 1987, the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, a major Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was contaminated with dangerous chemicals that have the potential to cause certain types of cancer and other serious health conditions.

Table of Contents

What Chemicals Were Contaminating the Water Supply at Camp Lejeune?

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the four (4) primary chemicals contaminating the water on the base were:

  • PCE (tetrachloroethylene, also referred to as perchloroethylene)
  • TCE (trichloroethylene)
  • Vinyl chloride; and
  • Benzene.

All four (4) of the chemicals are colorless and invisible to the naked eye.

PCE is commonly used as a dry-cleaning agent, though as the ATSDR notes, it has been used for metal degreasing as well.

PCE can either rapidly evaporate from shallow soil, or it can slowly degrade in the soil over time and eventually contaminate groundwater.

TCE is a solvent and is frequently used for cleaning metal parts.

Like PCE, it is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that has a sweet odor and is nonflammable.

Over time, TCE and PCE can break down in soil and form vinyl chloride, which can pollute groundwater.

Vinyl chloride is colorless and can dissolve in water.

In industrial settings, it has numerous uses, including making PVC pipes and manufacturing certain plastic products.

Benzene has been used for a wide variety of purposes, including manufacturing resins, rubber lubricants, synthetic fibers, plastics, dyes, sunscreen, pesticides, and drugs.

Like the other chemicals, it is colorless, has a sweet aroma, and can dissolve in water.

The water contamination at Camp Lejeune primarily occurred at two water treatment plants:

  • Tarawa Terrace; and
  • Hadnot Point.

The Tarawa Terrace Water Treatment Facility

When tested in the early 1980s, wells at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant were found to be contaminated with PCE.

The source of contamination at the Tarawa Terrace facility was discovered to be a nearby, off-base dry-cleaning company known as ABC One-Hour Cleaners that failed to properly dispose of their hazardous waste.

The PCE levels at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment facility were found to significantly exceed the maximum limits for drinking water established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Benzene was also discovered at the Tarawa Terrace facility in the mid-1980s, though it was detected at lower levels than the maximum amount allowed.

The most contaminated wells at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant were retired in February 1985.

The Hadnot Point Water Treatment Facility

TCE was the primary chemical compound discovered at the Hadnot Point water treatment plant.

The maximum amount of TCE permitted in drinking water is currently .5 μg/L (micrograms per liter).

The levels of TCE detected at the Hadnot Point treatment plant reached as high as 1,400 μg/L.

Other chemicals were also discovered in wells at the Hadnot Point facility.

They included DCE (dichloroethylene), PCE, vinyl chloride, and benzene.

The wells with the most significant levels of contamination were shut down at the same time as the wells at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment facility in February 1985.

There were multiple sources of possible contamination at the Hadnot Point treatment plant.

The sources included industrial spills, leaks from underground fuel storage tanks, and waste disposal sites.

Health Issues Caused by Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

Numerous severe side effects have been recorded in veterans and others who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

toxic water

Frequent and prolonged exposure to chemicals such as PCE and TCE may lead to conditions such as:

Individuals who were diagnosed with cancer or another severe health condition after serving, living, or working at Camp Lejeune for a period of at least 30 days may be entitled to pursue compensation for damages they suffered through a Camp Lejeune Water Contamination claim.

Camp Lejeune Lawsuits

Hundreds of thousands of veterans, family members, and civilian employees at Camp Lejeune were regularly exposed to contaminated water from 1953 to 1987.

While veterans and family members with covered conditions have been able to seek healthcare benefits through Veterans Affairs thanks to 2012’s Janey Ensminger Act, they were previously time-barred from pursuing a lawsuit against the at-fault parties.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which was signed into law by Congress in 2022, helped remove the legal barrier preventing victims from previously taking legal action — North Carolina currently has a 10-year statute of repose on lawsuits against polluters.

Unlike the statute of limitations, the statute of repose starts when the defendant first engages in negligent activity.

The statute of repose passed decades ago before anyone knew that the water was contaminated.

This new bill allows anyone who lived at Camp Lejeune for at least (30) days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, to file a lawsuit if they suffered certain severe health problems because of the contaminated water.

If you were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune during the specified time frame, find out how TruLaw can help.

Visit our Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Lawsuit page and get an instant case assessment.

Written By:
Jessie Paluch
Jessie Paluch

Experienced Attorney & Legal SaaS CEO

With over 25 years of legal experience, Jessie is an Illinois lawyer, a CPA, and a mother of three.  She spent the first decade of her career working as an international tax attorney at Deloitte.

In 2009, Jessie co-founded her own law firm with her husband – which has scaled to over 30 employees since its conception.

In 2016, Jessie founded TruLaw, which allows her to collaborate with attorneys and legal experts across the United States on a daily basis. This hypervaluable network of experts is what enables her to share reliable legal information with her readers!

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