Over three decades spanning the 1950s and ending in 1987, employees, Marines, and their families at the Camp Lejeune military base were getting drinking water that was heavily polluted with toxic chemicals. News of the contamination and apparent cover-up by the USMC caused a loud public outcry that has fueled an intense government response involving 20 years of research and public health studies.
The public health inquisition into the potential health effects of the Camp Lejeune contamination disaster has repeatedly and categorically concluded that kidney cancer is the disease with the strongest causation link to the Lejeune water. Thanks to a new law about to be passed by Congress, residents who developed kidney cancer from the water at Camp Lejeune will be able to file lawsuits and get settlement compensation from the government. This post will look at the connection between kidney cancer and the water at Camp Lejeune.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination – A Short History
Camp Lejeune is one of the biggest Marine Corps bases in the country and it occupies a massive swath of the North Carolina coast. Since the 1940s, Lejeune has served as a home, station, or workplace for millions of former Marines and civilians. In the later 1980s is was discovered that the USMC had been supplying these base residents and employees with poisoned water for 34 years. From 1953 to 1987 the water supplied at Camp Lejeune had dangerously high levels of toxic chemical solvents.
The primary toxic chemicals polluting the Camp Lejeune water were perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). Both were in the water during the 34 year period at levels over 2,000 times above the maximum safe level set by the EPA. Based on base records, researchers have estimated that over 1 million people were exposed to the poisoned water at Camp Lejeune over this period of time.
Public Health Inquiries on Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Veterans groups and the public were understandably outraged when the contamination of the water at Camp Lejeune was reported. This inevitably led to an overwhelming response by public health agencies at the direction of the federal government. Since the early 2000s, these various agencies have pursued a comprehensive scientific inquiry into the long-term health consequences of the water contamination.
2009 NRC Report Links Kidney Cancer to Camp Lejeune
In the early 2000s, the Navy directed the National Research Council to research and report on what adverse health outcomes are associated with past contamination of the water supply at Camp Lejeune. The result of this was the 2009 National Research Council report (the “NRC Report”) which became one of the earliest public health studies on the impact of the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
The NRC Report was inconclusive and dissatisfying in many respects, but the one definitive conclusion it did make was that there was overwhelming evidence connecting the Camp Lejeune water to kidney cancer and disease.
ATSDR Study Finds Higher Kidney Cancer Rates at Camp Lejeune
Five years later, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released the next major study results, which were published in Environmental Health in 2014. The mortality studies done by the ATSDR found that former Lejeune residents displayed much higher rates of kidney cancer and kidney disease compared to a control group. The study concluded that kidney cancer and disease were the conditions with the most convincing evidentiary link to the Lejeune water contamination.
VA Committee Affirms Kidney Cancer Link to Camp Lejeune
In 2015, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) formed a special committee of medical expert from across the country (the “VA Committee) to assist the administration of new health benefits to Camp Lejeune veterans. The VA Committee undertook a comprehensive review and assessment of the previous public health studies and other outside research in order to advise the VA on which health conditions could be linked to the Lejeune water based on valid evidence.
The findings of the VA Committee and the evidentiary support for them were detailed in reported titled: VA Clinical Guidance on the Health Conditions Identified by the Camp Lejeune Legislation. The VA Committee reached the same very clear conclusion as all of the previous inquiries: kidney cancer has a definitive connection to the water at Camp Lejeune. In fact, the VA Committee found that kidney cancer was supported by the strongest evidence of causation:
The toxicologic evidence was strongest for the associations between trichloroethylene (TCE) and kidney cancer and between PCE and kidney cancer.
Camp Lejeune Kidney Cancer Lawsuits Under New Federal Law
For years now, Camp Lejeune water pollution victims have been unable to bring civil lawsuits and get compensation from the government. A strict statute of repose in North Carolina was effectively used to dismiss all of these lawsuits. Congress is now on the brink of enacting a new federal law that will create a right to for Camp Lejeune victims to bring claims and get settlements.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), (which is merged into a larger bill called the Honoring Our Pact Act), passed the House by a wide margin back in March. Last month the Senate passed it but made some amendments that required approval by the House. There is no doubt that the bill is eventually going to pass.
Once the CLJA is formally enacted, victims of Camp Lejeune’s polluted water will have the right to file tort claims for injuries related to the water contamination. The CLJA specifically circumvents the North Carolina statute of repose which had blocked these claims before. Claimants will still need to prove their claims and allegations, but the CLJA adopts a much lower standard of proof than a normal civil case. The CLJA burden will permit plaintiffs to prove causation based on a single, valid study linking their injuries to the Lejeune water contaminants.
Under this lowered standard of proof for causation set forth in the CLJA, claimants with kidney cancer will have presumptive evidence of causation. All of the public health investigations and research reports have universally found that kidney cancer and chronic kidney disease can be associated with the water at Camp Lejeune. Plaintiffs with kidney cancer claims will probably just need to prove that they lived or worked at Lejeune during the relevant period in order to establish their claims.
Settlement Value of Camp Lejeune Kidney Cancer Cases
It is too early to say with any certainty what the average settlement payout value will be for successful Camp Lejeune water contamination claimants in kidney cancer cases. By using prior verdicts and reported settlements in other tort cases involving kidney cancer or kidney disease, however, we can offer a reasonable estimate.
Based on values in kidney cancer cases, Camp Lejeune claims involving kidney cancer could have a settlement value between $150,000 and $225,000. We are basing this on settlement payouts primarily in medical malpractice cases involving misdiagnosis of kidney cancer. This leave a lot of room for speculation. Claims involving chronic kidney disease claims will have a much lower value, possibly around $80,000 to $125,000.
Contact Us About a Camp Lejeune Kidney Cancer Lawsuit
If you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and were subsequently diagnosed with kidney cancer or kidney disease, contact our office today to see if you may be eligible to file a claim.