The most publicized case of water contamination at a U.S. military base is that at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. According to Legal Examiner, the contamination at Camp Lejeune is the only military base where victims of toxic chemical exposure have been cleared to sue the U.S. government for their health problems.
Normally, U.S. military members are unable to sue the U.S. government for their injuries sustained when they served. However, earlier this year, President Biden signed the “Camp Lejeune Justice Act [CLJA] of 2022” (S.3373) into law, which allows military veterans and their family members to file civil lawsuits against the U.S. Government for harm caused by at least thirty days of exposure, including in utero, to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987, the Federalist Society explains.
The CLJA is considered landmark legislation and is officially part of the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. The PACT Act, signed by President Biden in August, expands Veterans Administration (VA) health care and benefits for veterans and their survivors and recognizes toxic exposure as a "cost of war" by addressing the full range of issues impacting toxic-exposed veterans, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states.
Approximately 8,000 Camp Lejeune claims have been received by the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, according to a Nov. 16 TIME article, which adds that roughly one million lived or worked at Camp Lejeune during the more than three decades that the PACT Act covers.
The Marine Corps became aware of toxic chemicals in Camp Lejeune's water supply in 1982. However, levels of toxic chemicals exceeded safety standards until 1987, says TIME.
According to Legal Examiner, an estimated 50,000 people developed serious or fatal illnesses after 30 years of exposure to extremely high levels of carcinogens and other toxins at Camp Lejeune, but the U.S. Marine Corps allegedly kept this hidden for almost 20 years.
Camp Lejeune isn’t the only military site with alarming levels of toxic chemicals. More than 400 active and decommissioned U.S. military facilities face the same problem, with nearly 150 of those sites declared so toxic by the U.S. government, they have been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as Superfund cleanup sites, according to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
The toxic chemicals, including so-called “forever” per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, at these military bases have contaminated or are suspected of having contaminated the water supply not only on the sites of the active or closed facilities but in the surrounding communities as well, CPI says.
Other military bases affected by chemical contamination in the water supply include U.S. Navy Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, California’s George Air Force Base and Utah’s Hill Air Force Base. Time will tell if military veterans and their family members will be able to seek justice for any health problems caused by exposure to toxic chemicals at these and hundreds of other military facilities.