Environmental Effects of Camp Lejeune’s Water Contamination

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Two of the water-supply systems at Camp Lejeune were found in the early 1980s to be contaminated with the industrial solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), and anybody believing they have suffered health effects from these chemicals should seek the help of a Wilmington personal injury attorney.

Both water systems were supplied by the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water treatment plants, which served multiple areas, including enlisted-family housing, barracks for unmarried service members, base administrative offices, schools, and recreational areas. The Hadnot Point water system also served as a base hospital and industrial area, as well as supplying water to housing on the Holcomb Boulevard water system.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed Camp Lejeune on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) on October 4, 1989, and the EPA, the Navy, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) entered into a Federal Facility Agreement (FFA) in February 1991 for site cleanup activities.

Every five years, cleanup actions at Camp Lejeune are reviewed to ensure that people and environmental resources are protected. The most recent Five-Year Review was reported in 2020 and found that cleanup actions can protect people and the environment in the long term once they are complete.

Environmental Effects of Camp Lejeune Contamination

The EPA identified several chemical substances as contaminants of concern (COCs) for Camp Lejeune. COCs are the chemical substances found at Camp Lejeune that the EPA determined posed an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.

Cleanup actions at the site address the substances evaluated by the EPA. You can find an entire list of contaminants on the EPA website, and each pollutant also lists the contaminated media, which includes groundwater, surface water, soil, and sediment.

To identify the COCs, the EPA identified people and ecological resources that might be exposed to contamination found at the site, determined the amount and type of contaminants present, and determined the human health or environmental effects that might result from contact with the contaminants.

Tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, was the primary contaminant at the Tarawa Terrace Treatment Plant. The source of contamination was ABC One-Hour Cleaners, an off-base dry cleaning firm. The most highly contaminated wells ended up being shut down in February 1985.

Water modeling that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted for the Tarawa Terrace system has been completed. Based on its model results, PCE concentration was estimated to have exceeded the current EPA maximum contaminant level in drinking water at the Tarawa Terrace water treatment plant for 346 months between November 1957 and February 1987.

Over time, PCE will degrade in groundwater to trichloroethylene (TCE), trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (DCE), and vinyl chloride. The levels of these chemicals in the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system were also estimated.

You can view levels of PCE and PCE by-products in the drinking water serving homes in Tarawa Terrace on the ATSDR website. Benzene was also detected during a sampling of the Tarawa Terrace drinking water system in 1985 but was detected at a much lower level than the current United States standard.

At the Hadnot Point Treatment Plant, TCE was the primary contaminant. However, other contaminants that were detected in the finished water at Hadnot Point included PCE, DCE (trans 1,2-dichloroethylene), benzene, and vinyl chloride. There were also reported detections of benzene in the finished water at Hadnot Point in late 1985.

Hadnot Point involved multiple contamination sources, including leaking underground storage tanks and waste disposal sites. By February 1985, the most highly contaminated wells had been shut down.

Because PCE has high vapor pressure, much of it entering into the environment will exist as a vapor in the air, where it is then broken down by sunlight or brought back to the land surface through the rain. Liquid PCE will be denser than water and has a limited tendency to mix with, or dissolve in, water.

Because of its density, liquid PCE tends to move downward and can exist in groundwater as a separate dense non-aqueous phase liquid that will collect or pool at or along low points. Smaller amounts of PCE may dissolve in surface water or groundwater.

Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation With a Wilmington Personal Injury Attorney

If you or your loved one is now ailing because of exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, it will be in your best interest to make sure you have legal representation. Do not wait to contact Horton & Mendez for assistance navigating the complicated legal claims process so you can have an experienced lawyer who knows how to help you recover the financial compensation you need and deserve.

Our firm works very hard to ensure that the people suffering the most negative effects of contamination at Camp Lejeune can recover the benefits necessary to provide important medical care and help victims ultimately recover.

You may call (910) 415-1088 or contact us online to take advantage of a free consultation that will let us dig into your case’s details and answer any legal questions you might have about your case.

Frequently Asked Questions About Effects of Camp Lejeune Contamination on the Environment

What happens to TCE when it enters the environment?

TCE may be released into the air, water, and soil at places where it is produced or used, and TCE is broken down quickly in the air. TCE breaks down much more slowly in soil and water and is removed mostly through evaporation into the air.

TCE can be expected to remain in groundwater for a much longer time since it cannot evaporate, and TCE does not build up significantly in plants or animals.

What happens to benzene when it enters the environment?

Many industrial processes remain the main source of benzene in the environment, and benzene may pass into the air from water and soil. Benzene will react with other chemicals in the air and break down within a few days, but benzene in the air can also attach to rain or snow and be carried back down to the ground.

Benzene will break down more slowly in water and soil and may pass through the soil into underground water. Benzene will not build up in plants or animals.

What happens to vinyl chloride when it enters the environment?

Vinyl chloride as a liquid will evaporate quickly, and vinyl chloride in water or soil evaporates rapidly when it is near the surface. While in the air, vinyl chloride breaks down in a matter of days to other substances, although some may be harmful. Small amounts of vinyl chloride may dissolve in water.

Vinyl chloride is generally unlikely to build up in plants or animals that you might eat.

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