Cancers Linked to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

From the early 1950s to the late 1980s, the drinking water supply at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina was heavily contaminated with toxic, carcinogenic chemicals. After the contamination and its extent became public, the Department of Defense and other branches of the federal government have performed extensive testing and conducted numerous scientific studies to determine what impact the contaminated water had on the long-term health of base residents and employees.

These studies have determined that individuals who were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune may be at higher risk of developing certain types of cancer. The cancer types that have been linked to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune include kidney cancer, prostate cancer, esophagus cancer, and leukemia. In this post, our attorneys look at the studies and evidence linking these cancers to Camp Lejeune and what you can expect if you bring a Camp Lejeune cancer lawsuit.


Summary of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Between 1953 and 1987, the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune provided residents and employees with drinking water that was heavily contaminated with industrial chemicals. Specifically, the water supply at Camp Lejeune during this time period contained trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). The PCE and TCE levels in the Lejeune water were thousands of times higher than the maximum safe limits set by the EPA. It was later disclosed that the water at Camp Lejeune was also contaminated with benzene.

It is estimated that over 1 million people lived and/or worked on the Camp Lejeune base during the 34-year period in which the water supply was believed to be contaminated. These individuals include former marines and their families who lived on the base in short- and long-term housing facilities. They also include civilian employees who worked at Lejeune.

The chemicals contaminating the water at Camp Lejeune (TCE, PCE, and benzene) are all known to be toxic to humans and animals. They are also known or suspected carcinogens and have been linked to higher cancer rates in animal testing.

ATSDR Study on Health Effects of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a federal health agency that operates as part of the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The ATSDR often functions as the investigation branch of the CDC and HHS, conducting research on emerging health and environmental threats.

Following the discovery of the decades-long water contamination issue at the Camp Lejeune military base, the federal government came under intense pressure from veterans and various advocacy groups. In response, the ATSDR was tasked with conducting comprehensive research and testing to evaluate the potential health implications of the water contamination at Lejeune.

Over the last 2 decades, ATSDR has concluded several major retrospective studies to assess the impact that the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. Studies conducted by ATSDR involving Camp Lejeune have included 2 mortality studies on the military personnel and civilian employees at Camp Lejeune and a Cancer Incidence Study.

The mortality studies were conducted to evaluate whether exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune was linked to increased rates of death from specific cancers and other diseases. The study examined medical records and identified causes of death from over 4,600 civilian employees and 150,000 military personnel who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune during the contamination period.

About the ATSDR Studies on Contaminated Drinking Water at Camp Lejeune

The ATSDR mortality studies into the health impact of the contaminated drinking water at Lejeune examined the death healthcare records from nearly 200,000 former employees and Marine personnel who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune during the period of contamination at Camp Lejeune. The study collected data from these records to identify the causes of death for these individuals.

The study also examined similar cause of death data for a control group of about the same number of individuals who lived or worked at Camp Pendleton, a military base in California. Camp Pendleton was selected as the control group because the base residents had almost identical demographics compare to the Camp Lejeune population. In addition, the drinking water supply at Camp Pendleton was not contaminated during the relevant time period when the drinking water was contaminated at Camp Lejeune.

The results of the agency for toxic substances study into the mortality impact of the contamination at Camp Lejeune were published in 2014 in the journal Environmental Health. The study revealed that individuals who were exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune had higher mortality rates for the following types of cancer:

  • Kidney Cancer
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Leukemia

In the sections below we will look briefly at the findings of the agency for toxic substances study at Camp Lejeune for each of these.

Kidney Cancer Linked to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Based on existing evidence, kidney cancer seems to have the strongest link to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The overall occurrence rate for kidney cancer among former residents and employees at Camp Lejeune was 2-3 times higher compared to the control group. For those study participants who had the most significant exposure to the TCE/PCE contaminants in the water (i.e., people who worked or lived at the base for the longest time periods), however, the rate of kidney cancer death was 41 times higher compared to the control group.

The study concluded that exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune caused an increased risk of not only kidney cancer but other chronic kidney diseases. The study found that this finding was also supported by evidence from other studies. Around 80,000 cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed each year, making it the 8th most common type of cancer.

Bladder Cancer Linked to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

In addition to kidney cancer and disease, the ATSDR studies found strong evidence to indicate that the contaminated drinking water in Camp Lejeune was associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer. The rate of death from bladder cancer among Camp Lejeune personnel and employees was almost three times higher compared to the control group.

The average annual number of new bladder cancer cases in the U.S. is around 82,000. This makes bladder cancer the 6th most common type of cancer in the U.S. The overall 5-year survival rate for bladder cancer is 77%.

Prostate Cancer Linked to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The ATSDR study found evidence to suggest that individuals with extensive exposure to the contaminated water at Lejeune were at increased risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer. The rate of prostate cancer among the Camp Lejeune study participants was significantly higher compared to the control group. Moreover, there was evidence showing a clear connection between the extent of exposure and reported cases of prostate cancer. Out of the 10 study participants who died from prostate cancer, 8 were classified as having “high” exposure levels.

Prostate cancer is the 3rd most common type of cancer in the U.S. Each year, an average of 165,000 new prostate cancer cases are diagnosed across the country. The general 5-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 98%.

Leukemia Linked to Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

The ATSDR study of Camp Lejeune residents and employees found evidence indicating that exposure to the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune caused an increased risk of leukemia. There was also a clear relationship between the level of exposure and the incidence rate of leukemia deaths. 9 out of the 12 study participants who died from leukemia were categorized as having high levels of exposure to the contaminated water.

Leukemia (all types) accounts for an average of 60,000 new cancers diagnosed in the U.S. each year. This ranks leukemia as the 10th most common type of cancer. The 5-year survival rate for leukemia is 61%.

Results of Cancer Incidence Rate Study Still Pending

In addition to the mortality studies discussed above, the ATSDR is also conducting a Cancer Incidence Rate (CIR) study. The purpose of the CIR study is to quantify the extent to which exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune caused higher rates of specific cancer. To some extent, the CIR study will overlap with the conclusions already made in the mortality studies. However, the CIR study will provide a more comprehensive and accurate picture of exactly how much the Camp Lejeune water contamination increased the risk of developing certain cancers.

The CIR study was begun by ATSDR in 2018 and was expected to take 5 years to complete. To date, ATSDR has not published the results of the CIR study (if there are any yet).

New Law Will Allow Camp Lejeune Cancer Victims Right to Sue

Congress is on the verge of enacting a new federal law called the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (part of the Honoring Our Pact Act) that will give victims of the Camp Lejeune water contamination the right to file a lawsuit against the government for their injuries.

Settlement Value of Camp Lejeune Cancer Lawsuits

We don’t know what the average settlement payout will be for successful Camp Lejeune victims and their family members because no Camp Lejeune cases have ever been settled. What we do know, however, is what the average settlement value is for other tort cases involving the same types of cancer (e.g., kidney, bladder, prostate, leukemia, etc.). Based on these prior points of comparison we can come up with a reasonable estimate as to the likely settlement value of Camp Lejeune cancer lawsuits.

Almost all of the prior settlements involving specific cancer types are from medical malpractice cases involving diagnostic errors. These are cases where the plaintiff is claiming that their doctor was negligent in failing to timely their cancer, thereby allowing the cancer to continue untreated and spread. Verdicts and reported settlements in these misdiagnosis cases will give us a good idea of how specific cancer are valued for purposes of personal injury compensation.

Settlement Value of Camp Lejeune Kidney Cancer Cases

Based on the average awards in these cancer misdiagnosis cases, we believe that successful Camp Lejeune cases involving kidney cancer will have a settlement value of $150,000-$200,000. Kidney cancer is very treatable and has a very high 5-year survival rate which puts it at the lower end of the settlement payout scale.

Settlement Value of Camp Lejeune Bladder Cancer Cases

Camp Lejeune water contamination claims involving bladder cancer may have a slightly higher estimated settlement value of $170,000-$220,000. Bladder cancer and kidney cancer are comparable in terms of treatment options and survival rate. The main difference is you have 2 kidneys and only 1 bladder which reduces the chances of more favorable outcomes.

Settlement Value of Camp Lejeune Leukemia Cases

Successful Camp Lejeune water lawsuits in which victims or family members can show that they developed leukemia as a result of exposure to the Camp Lejeune drinking water will have a higher settlement value. The average settlement payout for Cap Lejeune leukemia claims will probably be around $190,000-$260,000. Leukemia has a lower 5-year survival rate than bladder and kidney cancer which makes gives it a higher settlement value.

Prostate Cancer Cases May Have No Settlement Value

Our firm is currently not accepting Camp Lejeune water contamination cases involving prostate cancer. Although the ATSDR study identified prostate cancer as one of the cancer types that appeared to have a connection to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, most lawyers are turning these cases down. The primary reason is that notwithstanding the findings of the ATSDR mortality survey, most tort lawyers believe that establishing causation in Camp Lejeune prostate cancer cases will be cost-prohibitive.

Prostate cancer is extremely common and has been linked to so many different environmental factors that it is hard to prove that one single factor was the primary cause. Even though most lawyers are declining prostate cancer cases right now, this could easily change moving forward. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act created a lowered standard of proof for claims and its possible that the ATSDR study may be accepted as proof.

Contact Us About a Camp Lejeune Lawsuit

If a member of your family may have developed cancer from the Camp Lejeune water contamination, contact our office today to see if you can potentially bring a civil lawsuit and get financial compensation. Call us at 800-553-8083 or contact us online.

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