Last weekend, the plaintiffs filed a Master Complaint in the Camp Lejeune lawsuits.
The crux of the Master Camp Lejeune Complaint is rooted in the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. This document has been created in line with the guidelines established in Case Management Order No. 2, dated September 26, 2023. It’s intended to serve as a foundational reference for individual CLJA actions and works in tandem with the Court-approved Short Form Complaint.
What is a Master Complaint in an MDL or class action lawsuit? A master complaint in the context of class action or multidistrict litigation (MDL) is a comprehensive legal document that consolidates and presents common factual allegations and legal claims on behalf of a large group of plaintiffs who have been similarly affected or harmed.
But the Master Complaint does not stand alone. Each affected individual has the right to submit their personal claims, adding unique details specific to their experiences. Every one of these stories is its own unique tragedy, and we can never lose sight of that.
The Master Complaint in the Camp Lejeune class action (yet not a class action) lawsuit is really good. So we will summarize it here.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is a U.S.-operated military base situated outside Jacksonville in Onslow County, North Carolina. Spanning across an impressive 156,000 acres with about 11 miles of shoreline, the base currently houses a population of around 170,000 people.
In 1941, the U.S. Congress sanctioned funds for the establishment and construction of a military base that would later be named Marine Barracks Camp Lejeune by 1942. This was subsequently renamed to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in 1944. Ever since its establishment, the base has been integral to the military operations of the United States. These are the people that have kept us all safe. But while they were keeping us safe, the government was putting our Marines and their families in jeopardy.
Water Distribution Systems
Understanding the water infrastructure is crucial to comprehending the extent of contamination. Camp Lejeune was sectioned into multiple water distribution systems, notably including Hadnot Point, Holcomb Boulevard, and Tarawa Terrace. Each system had its water treatment plant. These plants employed a lime softening process, which was ineffective in filtering out volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allowing them to seep into the main water reservoir and, subsequently, the distribution system.
Certain supply wells were particularly associated with major contamination sources like the Hadnot Point Industrial Area, the Hadnot Point Landfill Area, and ABC One-Hour Cleaners.
Additionally, there were instances when water from one system was used to supplement another, leading to the potential cross-contamination of water supplies.
Let’s look at the housing areas themselves:
Historic Nature of This Case
Scientists have described it as the most severe public drinking water contamination incident in U.S. history. Records indicate that between 1953 and 1987, the base supplied contaminated water to its inhabitants. Estimates suggest that up to a million people might have been exposed to this compromised water supply, including service members, civilian staff, and their families.
Tests revealed that the contamination levels in the water were alarmingly high, with levels exceeding current EPA safety standards by up to 280 times. This led to a range of severe health conditions in many of those exposed, ranging from various types of cancers, like leukemia, lung cancer, and breast cancer, to conditions like Parkinson’s Disease and female infertility. These severe health impacts have been recognized and linked to the contaminants found at Camp Lejeune.
What caused these illnesses? Various contaminants were identified in the water supply of Camp Lejeune. Among the most hazardous and prevalent were five VOCs: tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), dichloroethylene (DCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently sets regulations on the maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for these compounds, as exceeding these limits poses health risks. The levels of contamination found at Camp Lejeune significantly surpassed these thresholds:
- The EPA’s MCL for PCE is 5 parts-per-billion (ppb), but water at Camp Lejeune had levels up to 215 ppb.
- TCE’s MCL is 5 ppb, with Camp Lejeune’s water reaching 1,400 ppb.
- For DCE, the MCL is 7 ppb, but Camp Lejeune’s levels reached 406 ppb.
- Vinyl chloride has an MCL of 2 ppb, but the base had levels up to 2.9 ppb.
- Benzene’s MCL is set at 5 ppb, whereas Camp Lejeune’s water had alarming levels of up to 2,500 ppb.
The Botched Handling of the Disaster Before and After the Fact
The government’s handling of this environmental disaster is disturbing, to say the least, and the Master Complaint makes that clear. Despite internal warnings, water quality standards were disregarded. Furthermore, crucial information was withheld, even from the government’s own scientists, thereby misleading investigations for years and necessitating retroactive contamination calculations. So if you wonder why the government would pass a law allowing people to sue… the government, it is because they are trying to right a real wrong.
In 1948, a stark warning was already on the record, with a study conducted by the American Petroleum Institute declaring that the only safe concentration for benzene, a toxic chemical, was zero. Despite this knowledge, decisions made in the subsequent years seemed to disregard the risks. Major supply wells were strategically placed in close proximity to contamination sources.
One such well was situated less than a quarter-mile from the base’s primary fuel depot, while another was a mere eighth of a mile downgradient from a business known to dump chemicals into the ground. Yet another well was placed adjacent to a base dump and junkyard that housed metal waste, which had been exposed to TCE, a metal degreaser.
Weaknesses in the Lejeune Infrastructure Were Obvious
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, multiple studies highlighted the vulnerabilities of Camp Lejeune’s water infrastructure. A 1958 government contractor study emphasized the need for frequent maintenance inspections and repairs for the wells at Camp Lejeune. However, these inspections and necessary repairs were not carried out. Further, in 1959, it was found that the aquifer beneath Camp Lejeune was not adequately shielded from surface contamination. Despite these clear indicators of potential problems, no significant changes were made to mitigate the risk or to consistently monitor for contamination.
Various Navy departments set clear guidelines and standards for water quality during the 1960s and 1970s. These documents recognized the risks, specifically identifying contaminants and the acceptable levels for them. However, repeated test results over the years consistently showed elevated levels of contamination, particularly of chlorinated hydrocarbons, often exceeding the established safe ranges.
Things Did Not Get Better in the 80s
By the 1980s, the issue became even more pressing. Despite having multiple reports and test results indicating contamination, the government not only failed to take corrective measures but also appeared to downplay the severity of the situation. For instance, in 1982, even with test results showing high levels of TCE and PCE contaminants, a memorandum was issued claiming there were no problems detected in several water distribution systems, which is utterly insane. As a result, they reduced the frequency of testing.
Moreover, communications between different departments and contractors suggest a pattern of withholding or manipulating information. For instance, a 1983 environmental survey omitted any mention of the detected contaminants, even though previous testing had identified them. Additionally, there were instances where the government made commitments to state officials regarding water testing and monitoring, but these commitments were not consistently upheld.
In the early 1980s, the NACIP Initial Assessment Study for Camp Lejeune was notably silent on the alarming contamination already observed, specifically failing to discuss the critical issues found at Hadnot Point and Tarawa Terrace. Instead, the study’s focus was limited to the Rifle Range water distribution system.
Throughout 1983 and 1984, water samples from various distribution systems repeatedly exposed elevated contamination levels. The Facilities Assistant Chief of Staff sent letters and reports about these findings to the North Carolina Division of Health Services. Curiously, instead of attaching the original detailed reports from Grainger, which consistently flagged contamination concerns, these communications contained only a distilled table of the results.
By late 1983, after years of mounting evidence of water contamination, only minimal action was taken to address the contaminated water sources. This slow response continued until well into the 1980s. In 1985, despite the growing body of evidence, decisions were still being made to occasionally utilize contaminated water sources, based on the idea that the potential health threats were not severe enough to warrant shutting them down.
Throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s, numerous studies sought to gauge the vast and potent harm from this contamination. However, these studies encountered repeated roadblocks, especially with the United States withholding critical data. For instance, it was only in 2009 that the ATSDR gained access to an electronic database, unveiling over 700,000 pages of hidden documents. These documents revealed a startling fact: a massive 1.1 million gallons of fuel had been leaked into the ground at Hadnot Point, far exceeding the previously stated 50,000 gallons.
This late discovery, among others, led to the unprecedented retraction of the ATSDR’s 1997 public health assessment. It became clear that without full transparency and disclosure of all relevant records, it was nearly impossible to provide clear and accurate scientific analyses. Consequently, the true depth of the contamination at Camp Lejeune might still be more profound and devastating than the available studies suggest.
Plaintiffs’ Injuries and Claims
During a significant timeframe, the plaintiffs were exposed to water from various Camp Lejeune water distribution systems, including the Hadnot Point, Holcomb Boulevard, Tarawa Terrace, and Camp Johnson systems. This exposure was due to direct usage and through “water buffaloes,” which were large containers filled from these systems. Such exposure subjected them to dangerous amounts of contaminants. The implications of this exposure were dire, leading to personal injuries or even death for some victims.
The U.S. government really is not denying the premise of this. It has conceded that exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune is strongly linked to several diseases. This includes various forms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other serious health conditions. But keep in mind there are suspicions about other contaminants in the water during the relevant period that haven’t been disclosed or studied. That is still a big gap between what we know and what we will know about what injuries this toxic water caused. Current scientific evidence solidifies the correlation between exposure to the Camp Lejeune water contamination and a wide range of illnesses. Numerous studies are ongoing, aiming to further explore the links between the contaminants and other diseases. So we think it is 40 diseases and cancers. Who knows what it really is.
One thing is for sure. There’s undeniable evidence linking the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune. This exposure led them to undergo extensive medical treatment, endure physical and mental agony, and in some tragic instances, it resulted in death. The aftermath also entailed other damages such as medical expenses, lost income, and other related costs.
Contact Our Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawyers
Our Camp Lejeune lawyers are still helping new clients harmed by exposure to Camp Lejeune water using the following criteria:
- You served, lived, or worked at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina for at least 30 days between the years 1953 and 1987.
- You were subsequently diagnosed with leukemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or any other condition you believe may be related.
Contact our Camp Lejeune attorneys today for a free consultation at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation. Our law firm only gets paid if you receive compensation.