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Camp LeJeune Birth Defects
For more than 30 years, the residents of Camp LeJeune military base in North Carolina unknowingly drank, bathed in, and cooked with contaminated water. Among the dozens of toxic chemicals found in the water were mercury, toluene, benzene, and vinyl chloride, just to name a few. It’s no surprise that maternal exposure to contaminated water during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of birth defects. In fact, medical professionals have conducted extensive scientific research which has connected the contaminated water at Camp LeJeune to thousands of cases of birth defects and childhood cancers, including neural tube birth defects, oral cleft defects, leukemia, etc. Now, many marine corps officers and their affected family members are taking legal action for their physical, emotional, and financial suffering.
If you are a victim of Camp LeJeune birth defects, you may have grounds to file a civil claim under the Camp LeJeune Justice Act and recover damages. Sandy Springs personal injury attorneys at Ashenden & Associates have the skill and experience necessary to protect your legal rights and fight for a fair settlement. Call 770-394-8909 to schedule a free consultation at our law firm today.
Brief History of Camp LeJeune Water Contamination
From approximately 1953 to 1985, Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Base in Jacksonville, North Carolina had contaminated drinking water. Scientists and government officials now know that the Camp LeJeune water supply was contaminated by a One Hour Dry Cleaner (which opened across the street from one of the treatment plants that supplied water to the base) and up to 30,000 gallons of oil from underground storage tanks at Hadnot Point Fuel Farm.
The United States Marine Corps tried to brush the contaminated water issue under the rug for decades, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally got involved and helped shut down all the contaminated water wells in the mid-80s. But the damage was already done. For over 30 years, thousands of Marine Corps officers and their family members had drank, cooked with, and bathed in water contaminated with dozens of toxins and volatile organic compounds including mercury, toluene, benzene, vinyl chloride, perchloroethylene (PCE), and trichloroethylene (TCH). We now know that the amount of toxins in the water at Camp LeJeune far exceeded EPA safety limits.
Health Complications From Camp LeJeune Water Contamination
Since these wells were shut down, our nation’s doctors have seen countless cases of severe health conditions from the men, women, and children exposed to the contaminated drinking water at Camp LeJeune, such as:
- Breast cancer
- Liver cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Lung cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Childhood cancers
- Aplastic anemia
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Myelodysplastic syndrome
- Fatty liver disease
- Hepatic steatosis
- Cardiac conditions
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Kidney failure
- Neurological and mental issues
- Miscarriages and/or infertility
- Birth defects
What is a Birth Defect?
A birth defect is characterized by an abnormal structural change or growth in the body that occurs during fetal development inside the mother’s womb. These structural growths or changes can affect any part of a baby’s body, including the face, brain, heart, feet, or hands, and they can be identified during pregnancy, at birth, or anytime after birth. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in every 33 babies are born in the U.S. with birth defects every year. This breaks down to approximately 120,000 babies born with birth defects every year.
Common birth defects include:
- Oral clefts, such as cleft lip or cleft palate
- Congenital heart defects
- Down Syndrome
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida
- Anophthalmia or Microphthalmia
- Anotia or Microtia
- Diaphragmatic hernia
- Esophageal Atresia
It’s important to note that birth defects are very different from birth injuries. Birth injuries usually occur due to complications during labor and delivery or medical malpractice. In other words, the resulting injury and/or disability did not occur due to abnormal fetal development in the womb.
Common Causes of Birth Defects
Most birth defects occur within the first trimester of pregnancy, because this is when all the baby’s organs begin to form. Of course, certain birth defects can occur at any stage in pregnancy.
Medical professionals don’t always know what causes birth defects. Fetal alcohol syndrome is an easy one – it is caused by excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Meanwhile, Down Syndrome boils down to a cell division error called “nondisjunction,” which results in an embryo that has three sets of chromosome 21 instead of just two.
As for the majority of other birth defects, medical professionals suspect they’re caused by a combination of many factors, such as specific parental genes, maternal habits and behaviors during pregnancy, and environmental factors. However, doctors are not clear on how these factors interact with each other and lead to serious birth defects.
The following factors can lead to an increased risk of birth defects:
- Taking certain medications during pregnancy, such as the acne medication called isotretinoin.
- Smoking or drinking during pregnancy.
- Having certain medical conditions (especially those unmanaged or untreated), such as gestational diabetes or obesity.
- Contracting certain viruses or infections during pregnancy, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) or Zika virus.
- Having a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit during pregnancy due to excessive heat exposure or illness.
- Being pregnant over the age of 35 years old.
- Having a family member with a birth defect.
- Exposure to toxic substances or products during pregnancy.
The Connection Between Contaminated Camp LeJeune Water and Birth Defects
It’s no surprise that pregnant women exposed to unsafe levels of volatile organic compounds through drinking water at Camp LeJeune caused a variety of birth defects in their children.
In fact, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) studied pregnant mothers of nearly 12,600 children between the years of 1999 and 2002 to potentially link prenatal exposure to Camp LeJeune’s water to a higher rate of birth defects. In order to participate in this study, the mothers had to have lived on Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Base at some point during their pregnancies, and the children had to have been born between 1968 and 1985. ATSDR focused specifically on neural tube defects (such as spina bifida and anencephaly), oral clefts (such as cleft palate and cleft lip), and childhood cancers (such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia).
Of these survey participants –
- 35 had neural tube defects,
- 24 had oral clefts,
- And 29 had childhood cancers.
Of these, the CDC was only able to confirm 15 neural tube defects, 24 oral clefts, and 13 childhood cancers.
However, the CDC has also estimated that between 8,000 to 10,000 Camp LeJeune babies born since the 1980s have been born with serious birth defects. A 2021 article from North Carolina Health News even states that there is a cemetery called “Baby Heaven” at Camp LeJeune. It is filled with newborn babies who passed away due to leukemia, cranial defects, severe cleft palates, and spines protruding out of their backs. These babies did not make it past the first few weeks or months of life due to the severity of their birth defects and childhood cancers. The ones who have survived utero exposure to Camp LeJeune contaminated water likely live with debilitating health conditions and disabilities.
Can You Sue for Birth Defects Caused By Camp LeJeune Water Contamination?
Yes, if you have suffered from any of the health conditions identified by Camp LeJeune legislation (listed previously), then you have grounds to file a claim. The Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022 (H.R.2192) states that all Camp LeJeune victims who lived on base between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 can file a civil lawsuit and recover damages. This means that parents of children born with fatal birth defects can file, as well as those currently living with a Camp LeJeune birth defect.
As of July 2023, over 70,000 Camp LeJeune lawsuits have been filed under the Camp LeJeune Justice Act, with the number of claims rising daily.
Damages for Camp LeJeune Birth Defects
If you have suffered from serious birth defects and childhood cancers as a result of the Camp LeJeune toxic water, our experienced personal injury attorneys can help you recover financial compensation for the following damages:
- All medical bills for medications, surgeries, treatments, physical therapies, medical devices, etc.
- Caregiving expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Emotional distress
- Mental health counseling expenses
- Physical pain and suffering
- Permanent illness, disability, and/or disfigurement
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
- Funeral and burial expenses if the Camp LeJeune water contamination led to a fatal illness or health condition
As of now, we don’t know how small or large individual settlements will be, as nothing has been settled yet. Camp LeJeune victims can expect settlements depending on the severity of their health conditions (indicated in medical records) and how much financial loss they have suffered directly related to their health conditions. So a Camp LeJeune birth defect or cancer case could lead to a settlement as large as $500,000 or more. In order to calculate an approximate Camp LeJeune lawsuit settlement, be sure to work with experienced attorneys at Ashenden & Associates.