Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune, Other Military Bases Disproportionately Affected Communities of Color: Report

Nearly 45% of communities near contaminated military bases, like Camp Lejeune, have mostly minority populations.

Toxic pollution at military bases nationwide in recent decades, such as the highly publicized water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, has disproportionately affected communities of color across the United States.

The independent non-profit news organization Truthout released a report last week, which highlights the impact of Camp Lejeune water contamination, as one example of the problems at military bases throughout the country, which have routinely used and disposed of toxic chemicals in ways that negatively impacted those living and working on bases, as well as in the surrounding communities.

According to the report, those communities are far too often made up primarily of minorities, who have been left to deal with the long-term health risks resulting from the water contamination.

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Problems

Camp Lejeune is a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, which was plagued with water contamination problems that exposed millions of service members, family members and other individuals to toxic chemicals for decades.

Estimates suggest that more than a million Marines and their family members were exposed to contaminated Camp Lejeune water between the early 1950s and late 1980s, with some reports suggesting that toxic chemicals from Camp Lejeune may be responsible for more than 50,000 cases of breast cancer, 28,000 cases of bladder cancer, and 24,000 cases of renal cancer, as well as thousands of cases involve Parkinson’s disease and other health complications. It is also believed that Camp Lejeune water caused birth defects and wrongful death for thousands of unborn children exposed in utero.

Learn More About Camp Lejeune lawsuits

Water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987 caused cancers, birth defects, miscarriages and other side effects for U.S. Marines and their family members.

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The report indicates hazardous chemicals affecting Camp Lejeune and the surrounding communities include trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, vinyl chloride, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Communities of Color Disproportionately Affected

Truthout indicates Camp Lejeune is just the tip of the iceberg, indicating that there are more than 700 U.S. Army bases across the country linked to extensive toxic chemical contamination. And that does not include other U.S. Marine and Naval bases like Camp Lejeune, or U.S. Air Force facilities.

Nearly 45% of the neighborhoods and communities within a 1.8-mile radius of bases linked to toxic water, soil and air contamination are majority communities of color, the report reveals.

This is the result of discriminatory real estate practices and zoning ordinances enacted throughout the 20th Century, the report found. The land where marginalized communities lived was undervalued, which made it attractive to industrial facilities and military installations, landfills and other pollution sources.

Unlike more wealthy, majority-white communities, minority neighborhoods did not have the political or monetary resources to push back and keep polluters out, especially the U.S. military.

Minorities make up more than a third of the community surrounding Camp Lejeune, which has seen at least four major sewage spills of wastewater into neighboring communities since just 2018. However, the report points to other bases linked to massive toxic chemical problems in other parts of the country as well.

Patrick Space Force Base, in Florida, has PFAS levels of more than 4.3 million parts per trillion (ppt), which is more than 60,000 times higher than the EPA’s former health advisory standard of 70 ppt. PFAS levels at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville top 1.3 million ppt, and levels at Tyndall Air Force Base exceed 900,000 ppt.

While legal and political activism to protect these communities has increased in recent years, through a legal and political movement often referred to as “environmental justice”, many of the impacted communities still have not seen relief, many have still gone unacknowledged, and in many cases, the contamination is still ongoing.

Camp Lejeune Lawsuits and the PACT Act

There has been substantial media attention on the water contamination at Camp Lejeune since August, when President Joe Biden signed the Honoring Our PACT Act into law, which includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022.

For years, Camp Lejeune water injury claims have been denied by the U.S. government, based on qualified immunity defenses and the North Carolina statute of limitations, which was already expired by the time the problems at the Marine base were discovered. However, President Biden and the U.S. Congress have now opened a two year window for veterans, family members and others exposed to the water for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987 to pursue compensation for their injuries.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 requires that any water contamination lawsuit be brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina by August 10, 2024. However, prior to bringing the lawsuit, the new law requires that the claim be filed with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy’s Tort Claims Unit (TCU) in Norfolk, Virginia.

During the first month after new landmark legislation went into effect for toxic military exposures, the U.S. government had already received about 5,000 Camp Lejeune water contamination claims submitted by veterans, military family members and others injured by contaminants which impacted the Marine base between 1953 and 1987. However, it is widely expected that hundreds of thousands of cases will ultimately be presented over the next two years by individuals who have been diagnosed with various cancers Parkinson’s disease and other side effects linked to Camp Lejeune water, and is expected to become the largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history.

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