(NewsUSA) - Sometimes an egregious wrong gets righted.
Such appears to be the case for military members and their families who’ve been seeking justice in the courts for exposure to contaminated water that sickened generations at the Camp Lejeune Marine base in North Carolina.
Public outrage over their treatment heated up after victims’ lawsuits were dismissed in 2016 because of a state statute prohibiting plaintiffs from launching cases if more than 10 years have passed since the contaminating event. But last March the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 that essentially overrode that legal hurdle -- “Thirty-four years of people were exposed to toxins in the drinking water,” one congressman raged -- and the Senate seems poised to follow suit.
Now one of the nation’s most experienced tort law firms, Weitz & Luxenberg, has announced that it’s preparing to file lawsuits against the government in U.S. federal court on their behalf.
“We believe they deserve compensation, especially because they and their families became sick while serving our country,” said Robin Greenwald, a partner at the firm and co-chair of its Environmental and Consumer Protection Unit. “They drank the water, they bathed in it, and they used it to cook their food. And that water was contaminated with toxins at concentrations anywhere from 240 to 3,400 times the levels permitted by safety standards.”
The 156,000-acre Camp Lejeune, with 11 miles of beach capable of supporting amphibious operations, is used for military training purposes primarily by the Marine Corps but also other branches of the armed forces. Some of the most damning evidence comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s own Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR): “It is ATSDR’s position that exposure from the 1950s through February 1985 to trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride and other contaminants likely increased the risk of cancers, adverse birth outcomes, and other adverse health effects” for those on the base.
The Marine Corps first discovered volatile organic compounds in Camp Lejeune’s drinking water in 1982. However, it was already too late for people like now-retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose 9-year-old daughter Janey died in 1985 after having been diagnosed with leukemia two years earlier.
“The entire first trimester of (her mother’s) pregnancy was there on the base,” Ensminger told theHill.com on the eve of the bill’s passage. “We’ve got more documented evidence of what happened at Camp Lejeune than they have for Agent Orange.”
Assuming the Camp Lejeune Justice Act is ultimately signed into law by the president, who would be eligible to file lawsuits?
Those who lived, worked, or were exposed to drinking water at the base for at least 30 days from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987, and subsequently suffered water toxicity-related diseases. Among the conditions associated with exposure to the chemicals found in the drinking water:
• Breast, lung, liver, kidney and esophageal cancers
• Cardiac defect
• Female infertility
• Parkinson’s disease
• Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
• Fatty liver disease
• Myelodysplastic syndromes
• Multiple myeloma
• Renal toxicity
• Neurobehavioral effects
Weitz & Luxenberg encourages those who believe they fit the criteria and have been diagnosed with one or more of those conditions to schedule a free consultation.
The firm has a stellar track record in handling toxic contamination lawsuits. It won a landmark $423-million settlement against some of nation’s biggest oil companies, for example, in a suit involving the contamination of 153 public water systems with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether. And Greenwald was co-lead counsel for an $11 billion settlement in 2020 against Monsanto Company on behalf of nearly 100,000 Americans suffering from Non-Hodgkins lymphoma from their exposure to the weed killer Roundup.
As for Camp Lejeune, the ATSDR has said as many as 1 million military and civilian staff and their families might have been exposed to the contaminated drinking water. The victims who initially stepped forward only to have their cases dismissed in 2016 because of the North Carolina statute -- and they were only a tiny fraction of that number -- had reportedly filed claims totaling nearly $4 billion.