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What Contaminated the Water at Camp Lejeune?

November 4, 2022

From 1953 to 1987, an estimated one million or more marines, military contractors, family members became exposed to toxic, contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The victims drank the contaminated water and bathed in it.

In the years and decades that followed, countless men, women, and children suffered adverse health effects because of their exposure. These harmful effects include lung cancer, kidney cancer, birth defects, miscarriage, and so much more.

But how and why did this all happen? How did the water contamination get so bad? What substances could have caused so many different diseases? And how could it have gone on for so long?

As the truth of what happened at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune has come to light, veterans and their loved ones have been asking these questions. And they deserve answers.

In this article, we’ll focus on the root causes of the Camp Lejeune water contamination and the toxic substances that were found in dangerous quantities there.

Our team has also written extensively about many other issues relevant to Camp Lejeune veterans and their families. This includes discussion about the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, new legislation passed in 2022 that, finally, allows Camp Lejeune families to have their day in federal court and seek the compensation they deserve.

For more information on those topics, please refer to any of the links below:

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What Were the Main Causes of Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune?

In the last handful of years, stories about water contamination in communities across the United States have sadly become common. Often, the problems have come from aging lead pipes or specific sources of industrial runoff.

At Camp Lejeune, however, the contaminated water problem can’t be traced back to a single factor or dangerous substance. In fact, two separate water treatment plants—Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point—became affected, each for different reasons.

For areas served by the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant (including military housing, administrative offices, schools, and more), the biggest source of harmful chemicals came from a nearby dry-cleaning facility. From at least 1964 to 1986, toxic dry-cleaning solvent chemicals used by ABC One-Hour Cleaners were routinely handled and disposed of improperly.

Sometimes, these chemicals were even discharged directly into the septic system. Chemicals seeped into the groundwater and quickly contaminated wells at the Tarawa Terrace military housing, located less than 500 feet away. Tarawa Terrace was not switched over to the public water system until 1985.

At Hadnot Point (which served housing and offices as well as Camp Lejeune’s base hospital), chemical contaminants may have come from a wider variety of potential sources, including:

  • Chemical spills at on-base industrial sites
  • Leaking underground storage tanks
  • Dumping of oil and industrial wastewater into storm drains
  • Multiple waste disposal sites
  • Buried radioactive materials

What Harmful Chemicals Were Found in the Camp Lejeune Drinking Water?

The primary list of major contaminants in the Camp Lejeune water supply include the following volatile organic compounds (VOCs):

  • Trichlorethylene (TCE). Commonly used as a degreasing solvent for metal parts and equipment, TCE exposure is known to cause symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and nausea. In higher quantities, TCE has been linked to kidney cancer, liver cancer, lymphoma, and developmental defects in children. TCE breaks down very slowly in soil and water, meaning it can contaminate groundwater for long periods of time.
  • Tetrachloroethylene (PCE or PERC). A chemical used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing. Like TCE, smaller quantities can lead to dizziness, nausea, and headaches. Chronic exposure has been linked to bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cognitive impairments, mood changes, and more. And like TCE, PCE breaks down slowly in soil, water, and even air.
  • Vinyl chloride. A byproduct of both TCE and PCE, vinyl chloride is known to be harmful to the central nervous system, cardiovascular system (including the heart and blood vessels), immune system, and liver. The chemical can also cause developmental defects in children and young people.
  • Benzene. One of the most common production chemicals in the United States, benzene is found in plastics, rubber, synthetic fibers, lubricants, detergents, pesticides, crude oil, and more. High levels of benzene exposure can damage bone marrow and decrease production of healthy blood cells. Benzene has also been linked with leukemia and can pass through the bloodstream from mothers to unborn children.

Were You or a Loved One Exposed to Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune?

Contact Our Local, Veteran-Owned Law Firm Today

What Are Some of the Known Health Conditions Associated With Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?

The VOCs and other pollutants in the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune are known risk factors for many health problems, including the following:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Kidney cancer/kidney disease
  • Liver cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Bone marrow conditions
  • Female infertility
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Neurobehavioral effects
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Renal toxicity
  • Scleroderma

Because there were so many harmful chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune, this is almost certainly an incomplete list, and government agencies are still assessing potential health effects.

If you spent at least 30 days living or working on base at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, and you’ve developed any concerning health problems, we strongly recommend that you seek medical attention and contact an attorney familiar with Camp Lejeune water contamination cases, such as LTC Karl Truman. You may be eligible for certain financial compensation or health care benefits, potentially including VA disability, VA health care, or a personal injury lawsuit.

RELATED POST: What Are the Symptoms of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination?

How Did the Water Contamination Get So Bad?

What happened at Camp Lejeune was inexcusable. For more than 30 years, the drinking water at the camp poisoned and killed not only the men and women who chose to serve but their children as well.

Even worse, the government knew about the problem for years. Shocking rates of miscarriage, birth defects, and disease would have been obvious—along with on-base graveyards where hundreds of infants were buried.

By the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency had identified Camp Lejeune as a “major polluter.” By at least 1974, the Marine Corps became aware that VOCs were dangerous and imposed stricter regulations on waste disposal.

Finally, in 1980, stricter environmental regulations forced the military to begin testing the water at Camp Lejeune. Despite shocking results and repeated warnings from chemists, the Marine Corps didn’t start to shut down the contaminated water supplies until 1985.

In the following years, the government and the leadership at Camp Lejeune continued to hide the truth of what happened, including what they knew and when they knew it. No one wanted to take responsibility. As a result, many victims have only recently become aware of the water contamination and its relationship to their health issues—long after their opportunity to file a lawsuit had expired, due to a law on the books in North Carolina.

However, with the passage of recent legislation, including the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (part of the broader PACT Act), Camp Lejeune victims finally have a way to seek the compensation they deserve.

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What Are the Legal Options for Camp Lejeune Victims?

Depending on your circumstances, you may have several legal options available to you if you served or lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987. These options include:

  • VA disability compensation. The VA has established a presumptive service connection for military personnel who served at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and later developed certain medical conditions, including multiple forms of cancer. If your disease is on the list of medical conditions, you do not need to prove medical causation to receive VA disability benefits. If your disease is not on the list, you still may be approved, but you will need to provide medical evidence linking the condition to Camp Lejeune.
  • VA health care. As a result of the passage of the Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, the VA now provides cost-free health care services for veterans diagnosed with one of 15 conditions that have a presumed connection to Camp Lejeune drinking water. Military family members who lived on base are also eligible to have their health care costs reimbursed by the VA for the same list of conditions.
  • Filing a civil lawsuit. As a result of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, anyone who worked or lived on base (including veterans, family members, civilian contractors) for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987 can file suit against the government. You can seek compensation for not only economic damages (health care costs, lost wages, reduced earning capacity, etc.) but also for pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and other non-economic damages.

RELATED POST: Camp Lejeune Justice Act: A Veteran’s Guide

Contact Karl Truman Law Office Today for a Review of Your Camp Lejeune Case

LTC Karl Truman has been fighting on behalf of veterans and their families for decades—both as a U.S. Army veteran and as a respected attorney in the Northern Kentucky and Southern Indiana communities.

Our law firm not only prepares Camp Lejeune Justice Act claims but also has extensive experience handling VA claims as well. This experience gives us a broad perspective to help our clients figure out what benefits and sources of compensation they may be eligible for and then handle multiple legal claims on their behalf.

These cases are personal for Karl and for our team. You and your family deserve justice. To schedule your free case review, call us today at (502) 222-2222 or complete the contact form on this page.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (14 January, 2014). Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: Background. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (14 January, 2014). Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: Chemicals Involved. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

Levesque, W. (18 October, 2009). Camp Lejeune Water Contamination History. St. Lawrence County Government Veterans Department. Retrieved from

National Research Council (US) Committee on Contaminated Drinking Water at Camp Lejeune. (2009). Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing Potential Health Effects. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009. Summary. Retrieved from

Sorg, L. (21 February 2020). A Superfund cleanup in Jacksonville failed. Without federal funding for a fix, contamination is spreading. NC Policy Watch. Retrieved from

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.