How Did the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Affect Veterans and Their Families?
The Camp Lejeune water contamination caused serious illnesses and deaths. To many water contamination victims, the name Camp Lejeune brings an assortment of tragic scenes to mind. Some associate it with its “Baby Heaven,’’ a cemetery on site dedicated to more than 100 newborns who died at birth in the 1960s and 1970s. The deaths were due to mothers unaware of the contaminated water. They were poisoning themselves and their unborn babies by drinking, cleaning, and bathing in the toxic water. To others, the base represents a place that did not adequately protect young families.
A 2003 federal study concluded that the rate of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly (a condition in which part of the brain or skull is missing), was 265 times higher in babies connected with Camp Lejeune than the national average. The contamination affected pregnant women and their children by causing congenital disabilities such as cleft palates, fetal brain damage, and childhood cancers. Many children died due to their mothers being exposed to contaminated water during their pregnancy. It turns out that newborns are especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure because they’re still developing, which means if their mothers were exposed while pregnant, it could leave lasting damage. Pregnant women also have an increased susceptibility to toxins due to hormones released during pregnancy that affect how certain organs work and whether or not they can eliminate certain chemicals from their bodies effectively.
Camp Lejeune is also associated with many male breast cancer cases, considered rare for men to contract. According to the Washington Post, at least 73 men, most former marines, believe their bout with breast cancer comes from their time on the military base.
Here is a general list of illnesses and conditions associated with the Camp Lejeune water contamination by the ATSDR:
- Aplastic anemia
- Birth defects
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Cardiac defects
- End-stage renal disease
- Esophageal cancer
- Hepatic steatosis (also known as fatty liver disease)
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells)
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson disease
- Renal disease Scleroderma (an autoimmune connective tissue and rheumatic disease that causes inflammation in the skin and other areas of the body.)
The effects of Camp Lejeune’s water contamination on the psychological health of those exposed to it can be wide-ranging, from everyday stress and anxiety to more serious mental health issues like PTSD and suicidal thoughts. The potential for psychological harm is especially high for children whose parents served at Camp Lejeune. Children with mothers who drank contaminated water while pregnant are also at risk for developmental delays or learning disabilities. Additionally, they may experience behavioral problems such as aggression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The mental health problems caused by Camp Lejeune Water Contamination can be severe, including depression and anxiety. Some people who experienced this contamination were children; many developed cancer or other illnesses later in life. In addition to psychological distress, many people develop physical symptoms like skin rashes and sores from exposure to contaminated water. Some health conditions developed while victims lived at the base, while many others took years.
Since warning signs of toxic water are fairly rare, connecting a chronic illness to VOC exposure years or decades later isn’t always quick or apparent. Many factors affect the health effects of VOCs on the human body: the level of contaminants, how someone is exposed (ingested, inhaled, or in contact with the skin), and the length of time and frequency of exposure. Sadly, even low concentrations of toxins in the water can cause chronic health conditions, and in most cases, there aren’t any early symptoms or warning signs.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed Camp Lejeune on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1989, it took years before many former residents learned they were at risk for debilitating illnesses from Camp Lejeune water contamination. It took even longer before the federal government implemented programs advocating for Camp Lejeune victims.
In the case of the Camp Lejeune victims, the ATSDR obtained health history and medical information from thousands of former residents and employees from the facility during the relevant time frame. This information was then compared to similar medical information from a control group of residents and employees from Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in California, with water that was not contaminated.
Based on this analysis, the ATSDR study determined that the Camp Lejeune population displayed higher colon and rectal cancer rates than Camp Pendleton’s control group. More significantly, the ATSDR data indicated a correlation between the extent of exposure to the toxic water at Lejeune and the rate of colon cancer.
In addition, according to a February of 2014 CDC report, Marines had a:
- 68% higher risk of multiple myeloma
- 50% higher risk of ALS
- 47% higher risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- 42% higher risk of liver cancer
- 35% higher risk of kidney cancer