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What Happened to the Water at Camp Lejeune?

U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was established in 1942. In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water provided by two of the eight water treatment plants on base.

It has since come to light that from the 1950s until at least 1985, military and business activity contaminated the drinking water at Camp Lejeune with toxic chemicals at levels 240 to 3400 times higher than what is permitted by safety standards established by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

As many as one million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water.

People who are sick and who lived, worked, or served in the military at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, for at least 30 consecutive days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, are filing lawsuits.

Records suggest that toxic substances were leaking or intentionally dumped into the ground beginning almost immediately after Camp Lejeune was established. Workers report that until the mid-1980s, there were no guidelines for disposing of chemicals on the base. Industrial waste generated on the base was simply discarded in empty lots and makeshift dumps, on roads, and in the forests and waterways. Rainwater then carried some of that toxic waste into the wells used to supply drinking water. Maintenance crews also routinely spread transformer oil laden with PCBs on the roads to keep down the dust. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are cancer-causing man-made chemicals now banned but once widely used in industry.

Toxic chemicals on the base were reportedly mishandled in other ways, too. For example, a building was used as a day care and nursery after having been used to store the toxic insecticide DDT.

Two Contaminated Treatment Plants at Camp Lejeune

Two of the eight water treatment plants at Camp Lejeune were particularly problematic: the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point plants.

The water from the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant was primarily contaminated by the toxic cleaning solvent PCE (perchloroethylene) due to the waste disposal practices of a dry cleaner located right off base. That dry cleaner used some of the PCE sludge left over from the cleaning process to fill potholes, and also simply discarded it into the drains. Rainwater then carried off the discarded sludge, which eventually leached into the drinking water.

The Hadnot Point water supply was contaminated by multiple sources and multiple contaminants. The primary contaminant found in the Hadnot Point wells was TCE. TCE (trichloroethylene) was used, among other things, to clean machinery. It is likely the TCE contamination came from that cleaning use as well as from spills at industrial sites on-base and leaks from drums and underground storage tanks.

Other contaminants in the drinking water from the Hadnot Point plant included PCE, benzene, TCE degradation products [trans-1,2-DCE (t-1,2-dichloroethylene)], and vinyl chloride. Benzene, a carcinogenic component of gasoline, was most likely introduced to the water supply from the Hadnot Point fuel farm.

Both the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water treatment plants were closed between November 1984 and May 1985. The Tarawa Terrace plant was permanently closed in 1987.



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