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How Was the Water at Camp Lejeune Contaminated … and What Are the Ongoing Consequences?

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In 1982, trichloroethylene and benzene were leaked into the water tap in the area of the Marine Corp Base Camp of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. What’s important to understand about this leak, however, is that it did not happen due to one mistake. These chemicals were leaked into the drinking water of that Marine base on purpose over a long period of time.

After the chemicals were discovered and the negative health effects were proven to exist, people all over the United States had cause to file a water contamination lawsuit even if they had only briefly stayed at the base. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The situation at Camp Lejeune is simple: The water is contaminated by dangerous chemicals. But understanding why this happened, how we know it was contaminated, and what it means for people who have been exposed to it? That takes some explaining.

Why did the Water Get Contaminated?

As we mentioned before, the water was discovered to be contaminated in 1982. However, the chemicals might have been dumped into the water supply as far back as 1964. 

That was when ABC One Hour Cleaners opened their doors. They are a dry-cleaning service that uses a variety of different (industry-standard) chemicals to clean suits and other sensitive materials for consumers. The trouble is that they disposed of those chemicals incorrectly.

Imagine you pour water into the ground. There are lots of things, from the dirt itself, to roots of plants, and even bacteria that would absorb that water. But what if instead of pouring water into the ground, you poured mercury? Well, nothing “drinks” mercury.

That mercury would travel down, further and further, until it landed on something it couldn’t fall through. If it landed in a water tap, that mercury would spread throughout that water. Even then, it would not contaminate the water. Not only would it be too diluted, but a water treatment plant would separate the mercury out from the drinkable water. 

But if you spent years dumping gallons of gallons of mercury onto the ground, eventually there would be too much in the ground water to filter out. That’s what happened near Camp Lejeune.

How do we Know It’s Contaminated?

The contamination was first proven by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a governmental organization that studies this sort of thing. An abnormal number of people were reported sick, and eventually someone noticed that the water was the wrong color.

A study was done and it has since been corroborated by many follow-ups and other evidence as cancer rates have risen in the area.

What has Happened Since the Contamination was Discovered?

A cleanup operation has been stalled for the last 40 years. Currently, the pumps which deliver the contaminated water to the water treatment plant have been shut down. That means that while the water should be boiled, it is less dangerous than it was 40 years ago.

But due to many budget cuts, lawsuits, and reassignments of blame, the biggest development came in 2022, when President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, also known as the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act. This is legislation aiming to provide healthcare for veterans and their families who were specifically harmed by the Camp Lejeune water corruption.

Naturally, since this legislation admits that something was wrong, people have since filed lawsuits for damages caused by the water contamination.


Currently, the effects of trichloroethylene and benzene are generally neurological. It poisons the brain and the liver, meaning that symptoms will mostly include dizziness, confusion, delayed reflexes, nausea, liver damage, and eventually death.

If you lived in Camp Lejeune in the last 60 years, be sure to keep track of how clean your water is, and seek a remedy through the PACT Act if you believe it applies to you.

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