The United States Marine Corps: The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten. For those who were stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina from 1953 – 1987, this modified motto rings true. “The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten” is a term coined by an advocacy group for those marines and their families who were stationed at Camp Lejeune. Unlike other marines, who are not typically manhandled by their governments, those who were stationed at Camp Lejeune during this 35-year span were exposed to water contaminated with multiple toxic materials.
Between 1953 and 1987, marines and their families lived at Camp Lejeune and bathed and drank in contaminated water. Contaminants included TCE, which is a chemical typically used as a degreaser; PCE, which is a dry cleaning solvent; and benzene, an industrial solvent. These are all shown to be human carcinogens, which are chemicals that tend to promote cancer. At Camp Lejeune, these carcinogens led to increased prevalence of lung cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, and leukemia. Many have since died of these complications. Children who were conceived and / or born on base tended to suffer from birth defects including cleft lip and low birth rates, while women experienced infertility, or experienced birth complications including premature births and miscarriage.
Contamination at Camp Lejeune was never a secret. The EPA labeled the camp as a major polluter in 1970, and the military added new regulations in 1984 on the proper techniques for disposing toxic and hazardous waste. Despite the apparent knowledge of these existing issues, drinking water was not tested until 1982, thirty years after the camp had opened and was established as a home base for hundreds of men, women, and children.
The Associated Press (AP) investigated the contamination long after the camp was closed due to the contaminated water. It appears that the levels of toxic chemicals had been underreported. For example, an original contractor had reported that benzene appeared in the water supply at a toxic 380 parts per billion. A later report, however, stated that the contaminant was only present in a still toxic 38 parts per billion. An even newer report failed to mention benzene at all.
While the Veterans Affairs division recognizes that the water contamination has lead to serious diseases and complications amongst those who lived at Camp Lejeune and offers medical care and other resources to those who can provide records of residency and suffering, there is no established program to compensate families for all previous suffering from ailments and fatalities caused by living in this toxic environment for up to 35 years.
Written by Shayna Keyles & Lulaine Compere
Shayna Keyles is a blogger and social media marketer based in Louisville, Kentucky. When not working with RD Legal, she helps small businesses manage their online profiles and explores uncharted areas. You can follow her on Twitter at @SKLiaison or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lulaine Compere is a writer and analyst for the origination team at RD Legal Funding.