The water supply at the USMC Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina was polluted with extremely high levels of industrial solvents for over 3 decades spanning from the early 1950s to 1987. Following the discovery of this contamination, the federal government has directed a number of public health agencies to study and evaluate the impact that this contamination had on the long-term health of Camp Lejeune residents and employees.
These studies have recently concluded that Parkinson’s disease is one of the long-term health conditions that may have been caused by exposure to the chemicals in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. This post will look at the evidence linking Parkinson’s disease to the Camp Lejeune water supply and the potential settlement value of these cases.
History of Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune
Camp Lejeune is a major Marine Corps base in North Carolina that has been in used since WWII. From 1953 through 1987 the water supplied to Camp Lejeune was tainted with dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals. The two primary contaminants in the Lejeune water supply during this period were perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). Benzene was also named as an additional chemical in the water at Lejeune.
PCE and TCE are powerful chemicals that were used as solvents in various industries including dry cleaning and cleaning of metal weapons and equipment. The levels of PCE and TCE in the Camp Lejeune water system were several thousand times higher than the maximum safe limits set by public health agencies. Later studies into the contamination have estimated that over 1 million people (including former Marines, their families, and civilian employees) were exposed to the Camp Lejeune water over the years.
VA Review of Evidence on Health Impact of Camp Lejeune Water
In 2012, Congress passed a new law that directed the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to provide special health benefits to former residents of the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base. These special additional benefits were intended for treatment related to medical conditions and diseases that these veterans may have developed from exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
To help the VA administer these benefits it became necessary to determine what diseases and health conditions were potentially related to the Camp Lejeune water contamination. To identify what diseases were linked to the Lejeune water, a special panel of experts was formed and called the Committee on the Review of Clinical Guidance for the Care of Health Conditions Identified by the Camp Lejeune Legislation (the “VA Committee”).
The VA Committee was composed of leading experts in the relevant medical and scientific fields. The VA Committee was tasked with doing a comprehensive review of all the available scientific studies and research regarding the health impact of exposure to the chemical solvents in the Camp Lejeune Water supply. Based on this review, the VA Committee determined what specific diseases and health conditions could be linked to the Camp Lejeune water supply based on reliable evidence.
The research and conclusions of the VA Committee were eventually published by the National Academies Press in March 2016. The findings of the VA Committee were based on previous Camp Lejeune studies, including those performed by the ATSDR, and newer studies performed by private researchers.
VA Committee Concludes Parkinson’s Disease Linked to Camp Lejeune Water
One of the most significant conclusions made by the VA Committee was that there was sufficient evidence to indicate that Parkinson’s disease may be associated with exposure to the water at Lejeune. The VA Committee made this conclusion based on evidence from 4 different sources which included the ATSDR mortality studies:
the committee finds that TCE and similar solvents may have potential etiologic relevance in the development of Parkinson’s disease. The committee concludes that Parkinson’s disease is a neurobehavioral effect that may have resulted from the consumption of the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. This conclusion is based on the positive trends of increased risks from occupational and drinking water exposures reported by Goldman et al. (2012), NRC (2009), and Bove et al. (2014b). … [T]he committee recommends including Parkinson’s disease as an outcome associated with exposure to TCE and PCE.
The VA Committee finding from 2015 continues to reflect the scientific consensus regarding the connection between Parkinson’s disease and Camp Lejeune.
Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s Disease Claims Under New Federal Law
For many years, the victims of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune have been blocked from bringing civil lawsuits and getting compensation from the injuries. These Camp Lejeune tort lawsuits have been dismissed under a North Carolina law called a statute of repose. Now, however, Congress is in the verge of passing a new law that will give Camp Lejeune victims the right to bring claims for their injuries.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) was merged into a larger bill called the Honoring Our Pact Act and passed by the House in March. An amended version of the law was passed by the Senate in June 2022 and is set for reapproval by the House very soon.
Once the CLJA is signed into law, Camp Lejeune victims will have a 2 year window to file tort claims for injuries related to the water contamination. The law specifically prevents the use of the North Carolina statute of repose to dismiss these cases. Plaintiffs will still need to prove their claims, but the CLJA adopts a lowered standard of proof which states that causation can be established if the plaintiff can cite a study linking their injuries to the Lejeune water contaminants.
The report from the VA Committee identifies multiple studies indicating that Parkinson’s disease may be linked to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The strongest evidence cited by the VA Committee is a 2012 study entitled Solvent exposures and Parkinson’s disease risk in twins, Annals of Neurology 2012;71(6):776-784 (the “Goldman Study”). The Goldman Study found that occupational exposure to the chemical solvents in the Lejeune water supply (TCE and PCE) were “associated with a significantly increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.”
The Goldman Study found that individuals with long-term occupational exposure to TCE were 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease compared to those without TCE exposure. The evidence was even stronger for PCE. Exposure to PCE made individuals 10 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. The Goldman Study also found evidence indicating that duration of exposure to TCE or PCE was a key factor in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
The VA Committee findings and the Goldman Study could potentially be enough to establish causation in a Camp Lejeune claim involving Parkinson’s disease, at least under the lowered standard of proof established by the CLJA.
Settlement Value of Parkinson’s Disease
It is too early to say for certain what the average settlement value will be for Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuits. We can, however, estimate the potential settlement value of Camp Lejeune cases based on verdicts and reported settlements in prior tort cases involving similar injuries.
In our view, Camp Lejeune cases involving Parkinson’s disease will have a settlement value between $175,000 and $400,000. We are basing this on settlement payouts in other cases involving Parkinson’s disease.
Contact Us About a Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuit
If you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and were subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, contact our office today to see if you may be eligible to file a claim.