Water contamination should be the least of your concerns as a United States Marine. When a Marine and their family are stationed at a U.S. military base, the idea of poisoned water supplies not only sounds deplorable, but also highly unlikely to happen. Sadly, this is allegedly not the case for Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Reportedly, the drinking water at Camp Lejeune has high levels of benzene, a dangerous chemical known to cause cancer. Worsening matters, evidence shows that an environmental contractor hired by the government dramatically underreported benzene levels at Camp Lejeune.
Camp Lejeune Benzene Levels Underreported
For years, Marines who served at Camp Lejeune have blamed their families’ cancers and other ailments on tap water tainted by dry cleaning solvents, and many accuse the military of covering it up. The contamination occurred from the 1950s through the 1980s, and health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to the toxins before the wells that supplied the tainted water were closed two decades ago.
According to an Associated Press (AP) investigation, the benzene was discovered as part of a broader, ongoing probe into that contamination. The benzene contamination was traced to massive leaks from fuel tanks at the base. In July 1984, tests revealed benzene at levels of 380 parts per billion in a well near the base’s Hadnot Point Fuel Farm. According to a summary of the tests, the same contractor pointed out that the benzene concentration “far exceed[ed]” the safety limit set by federal regulators, which was at 5 parts per billion.
In 1991, another contractor warned the Navy of the health hazards posed by such levels of benzene, the AP said. By 1992, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, began a health risk assessment. That same year, a third contractor, the Michael Baker Corp., released a draft report on the feasibility of fixing the overall problem.
But, according to the AP, information on the 1984 water tests as noted in the Michael Baker report differed from what the original contractor had reported. The 1984 benzene level, which had initially been pegged at 380 parts per billion, had somehow changed to 38 parts per billion. The company’s final report on the well, issued in 1994, made no mention of benzene at all.
But the benzene didn’t magically disappear. In fact, according to the AP, it’s gotten much worse over time. One sample from a series of tests conducted from June 2007 to August 2009 on the now-closed wells registered benzene at 3,490 parts per billion, according to a report from a fourth contractor.
In the AP report detailing the benzene omission, a former enforcement officer with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was difficult to consider the discrepancies in the Michael Baker Corp. reports as an “innocent mistake.” The enforcement officer asserted that the fact that benzene levels were first reported at 380, then 38, and then disappeared entirely “does support the contention that they did do it deliberately.”
What is Benzene Poisoning?
Benzene, one of the most common solvents in the United States, is also used as an additive in gasoline and an ingredient in paints, inks, adhesives, rubbers, glues, old spot removers, and furniture wax. Benzene is also used to make some types of plastics, glues, rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
Acute benzene poisoning happens when someone is exposed to high levels of benzene during a short period of time. This type of exposure is most common in enclosed spaces, like a tank or vessel that are coated with benzene residue. Acute benzene poisoning can also result from spills or equipment failure. Acute poisoning can negatively affect the central nervous system, causing dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and incoherent speech. In more severe cases acute benzene poisoning can be fatal.
Chronic benzene poisoning occurs when someone is exposed to low levels of benzene over a long time. If someone is treated for acute exposure and survives, he or she is at risk of developing the chronic, lasting side effects associated with exposure to the toxic chemical. Common symptoms of chronic benzene poisoning include tiredness, weight loss, and headaches.
Benzene is a known human carcinogen. Long-term exposure, such as what happened at Camp Lejeune, can cause acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Benzene exposure has also been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, aplastic anemia, and myelodysplastic syndromes.
Legal Help for Victims of Camp Lejeune Benzene Poisoning
What happened at Camp Lejeune is indefensible. Filing a benzene poisoning lawsuit is one way to make sure the federal government is held accountable to the Marines who served there. If you were stationed at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s through the 1980s, and you or someone in your family has suffered from leukemia or another ailment that may be associated with benzene exposure, you and your family members deserve compensation for any resulting injuries. Please contact one of our Camp Lejeune benzene poisoning lawyers today. You can fill out the form at the right or call us at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) for a free case evaluation by a qualified attorney.