What Effects Did Camp Lejeune’s Water Contamination Have on the Environment?

Posted on

The water at U.S. Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune was contaminated from 1953 to 1987. Today, we know that the dangerous chemicals in the water likely caused serious medical illnesses for thousands of service members and their families.

What effect did these chemicals have on the environment? 

The Environmental Effects of Camp Lejeune Contamination

The environmental effects of Camp Lejeune contamination were the presence of dangerous chemicals in the soil and human water supply. Contaminants were found in groundwater, sediment, soil and surface water. The contamination was of a nature that could cause contact and harm to humans. The environmental damage at Camp Lejeune was widespread.

What is the current status of cleanup at Camp Lejeune?

Cleanup efforts are ongoing at Camp Lejeune. Human exposure is currently under control through isolation and cleanup efforts. However, efforts are not complete, and not all criteria have been met for sitewide use.

(Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Camp Lejeune Military Res. Health and Environment)

What were the chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune?

The chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune were:

  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Perchloroethylene (PCE)
  • Benzene
  • Vinyl Chloride

Environmental Contaminants at Camp Lejeune

Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Trichloroethylene is an industrial solvent. It’s used to degrease metal parts, in lubricants and in cleaners. It was used in dry cleaning until the 1950s. Its use in dry cleaning may have been the reason it was found in Camp Lejeune groundwater and soil because there was a dry cleaning facility near the military base.

At Camp Lejeune, trichloroethylene was found in groundwater, sediment, and soil. It was found in groundwater in at least ten different sites on the base. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reports that TCE toxicity damages the central nervous system and targets the kidney, liver, immune system and reproductive system.

(Source: Civilian Exposure, Full List of Camp Lejeune Site Contaminants)

Perchloroethylene (PCE)

Perchloroethylene is a liquid that’s colorless. It’s used in industrial settings including dry-cleaning. When used as a metal degreaser, it protects the metal from impurities. For those exposed to the substance in a work setting, safety precautions should be implemented. Over time, dry cleaning facilities have moved to other equipment that reduces the likelihood of human exposure to the substance.

Industrial release of perchloroethylene is believed to have contaminated the environment at Camp Lejeune beyond tolerable levels to humans. Perchloroethylene was found in groundwater and soil at three sites at Camp Lejeune. Exposure beyond tolerable levels may increase the risk of certain cancers including those associated with the environmental contamination at Camp Lejeune.

(Chemical Safety Facts, Perchloroethylene)


Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor. It dissolves in water, though humans can taste it in water at high levels. Benzene has a wide range of manufacturing uses for products including styrofoam, resins, rubbers, dyes, lubricants, detergents and drugs.

Benzene was found in the groundwater and soil at numerous sites throughout Camp Lejeune. Although there are natural sources of benzene in the environment, it can also occur because of industrial discharge, disposal and leaks. In soil, benzene breaks down slowly. It is soluble in water, and it can enter underground water from the soil.

Long-term exposure may cause cancer, specifically leukemia. Reproductive organ abnormalities are also a possible problem following exposure to benzene. The Department of Health and Human Services labels benzene a known carcinogen.

(Source: ATSDR, Toxicological Profile for Benzene, Public Health Statement)

Vinyl Chloride

Vinyl chloride is a gas. It is used to make PVC pipes, wire coatings, upholstery in vehicles and plastic cutlery. It can be released in industrial use or formed when other chemicals enter the environment where soil organisms break them down. If a human can smell vinyl chloride in the air, it’s present at an unsafe level.

Exposure to vinyl chloride typically occurs through the air. Camp Lejeune victims may have encountered the contaminated air when they used toxic water for daily use including drinking, laundry and showering. Contact can also occur through the skin.

Exposure may increase the likelihood of cancer, and it may harm a person’s liver, kidneys, lungs, spleen, nervous system and blood. Victims may suffer from increased rates of reproductive abnormalities including miscarriage, birth defects and damage to sperm.

(Source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Vinyl Chloride)

What cleanup has been done at Camp Lejeune?

Cleanup efforts at Camp Lejeune have included:

  • Air stripping
  • Carbon adsorption
  • Chemical reduction
  • Clarification
  • Disposal
  • Drainage and erosion control
  • Extraction
  • Filtration
  • Monitoring and institutional controls
  • Oil water separation
  • Chemical oxidation
  • Sub-Slab depressurization
  • Vapor intrusion mitigation
  • Air sparging
  • Other engineering controls

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Camp Lejeune Military Res. Operable Units

What is the progress of the Camp Lejeune water contamination cleanup?

Key dates in the progress of the Camp Lejeune water contamination cleanup are:

  • Initial assessment – Feb. 15, 1988
  • Finalization of National Priorities List – Oct. 4, 1989
  • Remedial investigation started – Jun. 28, 1990 (final remedy selection is ongoing)
  • Remedial action started – Sep. 30, 1993
  • Reviews have occurred at least every five years

Environmental coordinators divided the site into distinct areas to organize cleanup efforts. These divisions were made by geographic area, the specific contaminants present and whether the contamination was in groundwater or soil.

Construction of treatment systems is estimated to be completed in the fall of 2024. There is no anticipated date for sitewide readiness for reuse. Feasibility studies have occurred by site, with remedial designs and actions created specifically for each site.

(United States Environmental Protection Agency, Camp Lejeune Military Res. Cleanup Progress)

Attorneys Advocating for Camp Lejeune Environmental Hazards Victims

The statute of limitations for Camp Lejeune lawsuits is two years from the enactment of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022. The filing end date is August 10, 2024, we can no longer accept additional Camp Lejeune cases. If you or a loved one have been injured in a similar situation, the Bringardner Injury Law Firm is here to assist. Call us at 843-380-5299 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Bringardner Logo White

Get in touch with us today to get started on your free case review. After you submit your information, we will contact you as soon as possible before the end of the business day. We review all submissions as quickly as possible in the order in which they are received.