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Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Victims See Hope in New House Bill

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 passed with bipartisan support as part of a broad piece of toxics legislation in the House and if it receives Senate approval and becomes law, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 would enable individuals who suffered from on-base water contamination to pursue lawsuits for their illnesses. The bill advanced within the Honoring our PACT Act of 2021 — an expansive act to improve benefits for veterans exposed to toxins — in a 256-174 vote.

The toxic water problems at Camp Lejeune has received notoriety and famous people have advocated for the many veterans and their families who’ve been sickened and died as a result of the contamination. One such celebrity is Erin Brockovich who has made Camp Lejeune a central part of her work as an advocate against toxic dumps and contamination.

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act would allow those exposed — even in-utero — to water contamination at the base for at least 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, to file a claim in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Northern Carolina. To do so, the bill would essentially override a North Carolina legal hurdle that has otherwise made such suits impossible.

This new Act would allow for full compensatory damages, including pain & suffering, permanent injury, emotional damages, loss of consortium, wrongful death and other claims. These types of damages were not in the 2012 compensation program.

The sheer number of military vets and their families who went to Camp Lejeune for training during that 34 year period is mind boggling. “Anybody who served in the United States Marine Corps, and went for combat training, probably went to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina,” Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), the Camp Lejeune bill’s sponsor, told The Hill on Wednesday. “So this is not just a North Carolina issue; it’s a national issue.”

Cartwright is correct-it is a national issue and a national outrage.

Exposures to contaminants — such as trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride and others — at Camp Lejeune likely increased the risk of certain cancers, adverse birth outcomes and other health impacts from the 1950s through February 1985, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The Marine Corps first discovered specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water generated by treatment plants on base in 1982, according to the ATSDR. Three of the plants had “historically supplied finished water to the majority of family housing units” and were found to contain VOCs, research from ATSDR stated.

The ATSDR links kidney cancer, multiple myeloma and various leukemias to water contamination at Camp Lejeune.

North Carolina is among the few states to have a statute of repose on polluters that prohibits plaintiffs from launching cases if more than 10 years have passed since the contaminating event. If signed into law, the statute of repose would be lifted and polluters would have to face their victims in a court of law. No longer able to hide behind legal technicalities, these Camp Lejeune cases would be about justice for courageous veterans, science, and the damages inflicted upon our nation’s best.

Should the new legislation pass and full damages be available to veterans and their families, we will be ready to act. We understand the importance of North Carolina counsel and have combined with a Camp Lejeune law firm in Onslow County with decades of experience in helping active military members and veterans, as well as their families, on many matters. They have monitored the progress leading to this Act for years. They are also familiar with the Federal Tort Claims Act and helping preserve the rights of injured military personnel in the United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

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