In the wake of a water contamination scandal that has rocked Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, officials have been investigating a link between the water crisis and a number of illnesses. They have uncovered evidence to suggest that troops who were stationed at the military base between 1953 and 1987 were exposed to the contaminated water and developed various illnesses as a result.
Many veterans who have lived or lived near Camp Lejeune have filed lawsuits against the military and the Chemours Company, a chemical company responsible for manufacturing and disposing of a toxic chemical used to clean pipes at Camp Lejeune between 1979 and 1985.
The U.S. military announced that it had terminated its contract with Chemours after testing confirmed that the water supply contained elevated levels of PFOA, the chemical compound that was at the center of the scandal. Here are some key facts about the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and some of the illnesses that have been linked to it.
What Happened At Camp Lejeune?
From the 1950s through the late 80s, the water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with a dangerous chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), amongst other toxic chemicals. Scientists discovered traces of the chemical in drinking water at Camp Lejeune early on but did little to address the issue until more recently.
Other toxins found to contaminate the water include perchloroethylene (PCE), which is a solvent used in dry cleaning and other industrial processes; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as ethylene oxide, which is used to sterilize medical equipment; and industrial solvents such as trichloroethylene, which is found in paint strippers and degreasers.
An ABC One Hour Dry Cleaner near the base was also found to have used PCE as a cleaning agent. Evidence suggests that all of these chemicals were intentionally dumped into one of the base’s waste disposal pits, which resulted in widespread contamination of the base’s drinking water supply. The base’s water treatment plant was only designed to filter out a few of these contaminants, which meant that most residents were never made aware of the dangers lurking in their water.
Illnesses Linked To Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Over the years, many former members of the military and their families have developed health problems as a result of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Prolonged exposure to the contaminated water proved detrimental, causing kidney cancer and cancers of the colon, thyroid, prostate, ovary, stomach, and esophagus; autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis; fertility problems; birth defects; learning disabilities; and liver damage.
The chemicals causing kidney cancer and other health problems are called carcinogens – substances that can cause cancer – because they are toxic to cells in the body and alter normal cell functions in ways that may lead to cancer development.
Studies have also found links between contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and other diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, ulcerative colitis, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. Many members of the military who have served at Camp Lejeune are at a higher risk of developing these diseases due to their increased exposure to toxic chemicals in the water.
In recent years, the military has begun to acknowledge and address the problem appropriately, but it took some time for the cause to be publicly acknowledged. In 2007, the US Department of Defense (DoD) released a report that stated that there was evidence indicating that soldiers stationed at Camp Lejeune may have been exposed to harmful chemicals in the water as early as the 1940s.
Following the report, Congress ordered a comprehensive investigation into the situation. The results of the investigation were released in 2012. The report confirmed that harmful chemicals such as benzene, a known carcinogen, had been present in the base’s water supply for at least 30 years and that the exposure may have contributed to an increased incidence of certain diseases among service members and civilians who lived and worked on the base during that time period.
The unforeseen effects of the tainted water at Camp Lejeune demonstrate the importance of taking the necessary precautions to ensure that drinking water is not contaminated. It is important that we maintain access to clean drinking water in order to maintain our health and protect our environment. Instances like Camp Lejeune can be avoided by following proper procedures for treating and storing drinking water and preventing contamination of the supply.