For 3 decades spanning the 1950s to the 1980s the water supplied to the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was dangerously contaminated with harmful chemicals. In response to concerns about the impact of this contamination, the federal government launched numerous public health investigations and studies to assess the health effects the contaminated water had on Lejeune residents.
The current consensus opinion reached by these studies is that there is clear evidence to indicate that exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune caused increased rates of Parkinson’s disease. Now a new federal law is about to give victims of the Camp Lejeune contamination, including those with Parkinson’s disease, the right to bring claims and get compensation.Brief History of Camp Lejeune Water Contamination
Located in southeastern North Carolina, the U.S. Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune encompasses 156,000 acres. It has been a major base of operations for the USMC since 1941. Throughout its history, Camp Lejeune has provided residential accommodations for a base population of around 54,000.
Between 1953 and 1987, the groundwater at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with industrial chemicals, primarily the chlorinated solvents perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). The levels of these chemicals in the Camp Lejeune water supply were several thousand times higher than the current maximum safe levels set by health agencies. During the 34-year period of water contamination, it has been estimated than anywhere between 700,000 and 1 million people lived or worked at Camp Lejeune.ATSDR Public Health Studies on the Camp Lejeune Population
In response to concerns about the potential adverse health effects of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, the federal government has funded several major public health studies. The purpose of these studies has been to assess and evaluate what disease and adverse health conditions may have been caused by exposure to the chemicals in the Lejeune water.
From 1991 to 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is a branch of the Centers for Disease Control, conducted a public health assessment of Camp Lejeune. This included a detailed reconstruction of the estimated contamination levels in the drinking water systems.
The exposure information compiled by the ATSDR has been used is numerous epidemiologic studies of health effects on Camp Lejeune residents. These studies examined a number of different health outcome “endpoints,” including birth defects, adverse birth outcomes, cancer, and mortality rates. The findings of these studies were published in 2014 (2014 ATSDR Study).
In 2009, the National Research Council (NRC) released a report entitled Contaminated Water Supplies at Camp Lejeune: Assessing Potential Health Effects (2009 NRC Report) This report was requested by Congress as a means to independently assess the potential health outcomes that may have been caused by the Lejeune water supply. The primary finding of the 2009 NRC Report was that there was a clear link between the Camp Lejeune water and higher rates of kidney and bladder cancer. The 2009 NRC Report also noted evidence of higher birth defect rates.VA Clinical Guidance Associates Parkinson’s Disease With Camp Lejeune Water
A new law passed in 2012 obligated the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to begin providing health benefits to veterans with conditions that were deemed to be related to the Camp Lejeune water contamination. To assist the VA is determining what health conditions should be accepted as associated with the Camp Lejeune water, the a special committee of experts was assembled (the “VA Committee”).
The VA Committee undertook a comprehensive examination of all the available scientific research regarding the health impact of exposure to the Camp Lejeune Water supply. Based on this review, the VA Committee published official Clinical Guidance which identified what specific diseases could be linked to the Camp Lejeune water supply based on reliable evidence.
One of the most meaningful conclusions made by the VA Committee was that there was convincing evidence to show that Parkinson’s disease was associated with exposure to chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune. In the Clinical Guidance report, the VA Committee explained that this conclusion was based on evidence from 4 different sources, including the 2014 ATSDR Study:
Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s Disease Claims Under New Federal Law
the committee finds that TCE and similar solvents may have potential etiologic relevance in the development of Parkinson’s disease. The committee concludes that Parkinson’s disease is a neurobehavioral effect that may have resulted from the consumption of the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. This conclusion is based on the positive trends of increased risks from occupational and drinking water exposures reported by Goldman et al. (2012), NRC (2009), and Bove et al. (2014b). … [T]he committee recommends including Parkinson’s disease as an outcome associated with exposure to TCE and PCE.
Clinical Guidance at 35.
Victims of the Lejeune water contamination disaster have been barred from bringing civil claims because of a strict statute of repose law in North Carolina. Congress is very close to enacting a new federal law, however, that will permit Camp Lejeune victims the right to bring claims for their injuries.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which is part of a larger bill called the Honoring Our Pact Act (PACT Act), was passed by the House in March by a vote of 256-174. In June 2022, the Senate made some amendments to the bill and passed it by a vote of 84-14. The amendments required reapproval by the House and as soon as the happens President Biden has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.
Once the CLJA is officially enacted, victims of the Camp Lejeune disaster will have a window of at least 2-years to file tort claims for injuries related to the water contamination. The law expressly removes the North Carolina statute of repose as legal barrier.
Claimants under the CLJA will have the burden of proving their claims. However, the CLJA creates a lowered standard of proof for causation. Section (b) of the CLJA states that the party filing an action will have the burden of proving a relationship between the Camp Lejeune water and their alleged injuries. But § (b)(2) allows this burden to be satisfied based on a single epidemiological study:
(2) USE OF STUDIES.—A study conducted on humans or animals, or from an epidemiological study, which ruled out chance and bias with reasonable confidence and which concluded, with sufficient evidence, that exposure to the water described in subsection (a) is one possible cause of the harm, shall be sufficient to satisfy the burden of proof described under paragraph (1).
CLJA (b)(2). This language appears to suggest that CLJA claimants will not need to retain expert witnesses to support their claims as long as they can cite to a study showing that their injury is associated with Camp Lejeune.
The VA Clinical Guidance could potentially be accepted as per se evidence of causation for Parkinson’s disease claims under the CLJA. The VA Guidance also cites to other studies that could be used to show that Parkinson’s disease is associated with the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. This includes a 2012 study entitled Solvent exposures and Parkinson’s disease risk in twins, Annals of Neurology 2012;71(6):776-784 (the “Goldman Study”). The Goldman Study found that occupational exposure to the chemical solvents in the Lejeune water supply (TCE and PCE) were “associated with a significantly increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.”
According to the Goldman Study, long-term occupational exposure to TCE resulted in a sixfold increase in the likelihood of being with Parkinson’s disease compared to those without TCE exposure. The causal connection was even stronger for PCE. Exposure to PCE made individuals 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The study also showed a clear association between duration of exposure to TCE or PCE and the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Either the VA Clinical Guidance and/or the Goldman Study could potentially be enough to establish causation for Parkinson’s disease under the CLJA burden of proof standard. This means that individuals who can prove that they lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and were subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease should have a successful claim under the CLJA.How Much are Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s Disease Cases Worth?
It almost goes without saying that it is way too early to know exactly how much Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s disease cases under the CLJA could be worth. There are many variables that could significantly impact the potential value of these claims on a case-by-case basis.
That being said, we can still offer a reasonably reliable estimate of the potential settlement value of Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s disease claims by looking at how much Parkinson’s disease (or similar injuries) has been worth in prior tort cases. Based on this, we believe that Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s disease claims under the CLJA could have an average value between $175,000 and $400,000.Contact Us About a Camp Lejeune Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuit
If you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and were subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, contact our office today to see if you may be eligible to file a claim.