Well water contaminated by toxic chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene had a devastating effect for many years on the long-term health of soldiers and families at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina.

Finally, those adversely affected may be fully compensated.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, focusing on four decades of water contamination, is expected to be passed soon by Congress as part of the broader Honoring Our PACT Act legislation, which is designed to help veterans everywhere hurt by toxic exposure of any kind while serving their country.

Passage will allow for individuals at Camp Lejeune who were exposed to the contaminated water to file lawsuits to recover damages. The act will also streamline disability claims and provide additional benefits with the Veterans Administration.

Compensation for Cancer and More

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the water contamination surrounding Camp Lejeune from 1953 to 1987 has been responsible for a wide range of serious health issues.

These include adult leukemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease. The contamination also resulted in serious birth defects for some.

“It’s fairness, tailor-made for people to get their day in court,” said Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-PA), who co-sponsored the legislation already passed in the House of Representatives. “We are talking about contaminated water that led to people getting all sorts of horrible illnesses.”

The U.S. Senate is expected to soon pass the legislation and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Legal action by veterans in the past has been inhibited by state laws in North Carolina, one of which requires a cancer to have been diagnosed within 10 years of the toxic activity. The new legislation will allow most everyone to have their day in court.

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Everyone Harmed Will Be Covered

The legislation prohibits the U.S. government from asserting specified immunity from litigation in response to a lawsuit regarding the contaminated water.

It will cover all former active-duty personnel, reserve and National Guard members who spent at least 30 consecutive days at Camp Lejeune within that 34-year period, along with their family members.

The CDC has estimated that almost 900,000 veterans, family members and nearby civilians were potentially exposed to the unsafe water at Camp Lejeune, linked to various sources, including nearby industrial spills, underground storage tanks and an off-base dry cleaning facility.

Although problems had been suspected for a while, it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that water testing uncovered the culprits causing the contamination.

Chemicals Causing the Contamination

The toxic chemicals found in the water included benzene, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, vinyl chloride and other compounds, all known to be carcinogenic and harmful to humans. The water contamination was documented at up to 300 times the acceptable levels in some instances.

Trichloroethylene is used as a solvent for industrial degreasing operations and often released as vapor into the atmosphere. It also is used in consumer products such as paint removers and rug cleaners. It has been associated with causation of several different types of cancer in humans.

Perchloroethylene, sometimes known as tetrachloroethylene, is used for dry cleaning and textile processing, along with vapor degreasing in metal-cleaning operations. It has been linked to certain cancers through detection in groundwater drinking sources. It also has been linked to birth defects.

Benzene is a common industrial chemical that is widely used to help make plastics, lubricants, pesticides and detergents. It can be produced naturally or by fires and volcanoes. It evaporates quickly and is found in low-lying areas. The links to cancer have focused on leukemia and other blood cell diseases.

More Claims Will Be Approved

The contaminated wells around Camp Lejeune were mostly closed by 1985, but the long-term health effects related to the chemicals found in the water are still ongoing for some.

In 2017, the federal government agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans whose exposure to the contaminated water had caused health problems.

The VA has been providing disability compensation to affected families for years, but most applications are denied for various reasons. Many veterans still believe the system is broken and are welcoming the future legislation.

CBS News reported earlier this year that the VA rate of approval for compensation claims from Camp Lejeune averages only 17%.