Since 2015, researchers at a government agency have been working on a cancer incidence study focused on contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
Now, a draft of the study has been completed, but it is not being shared with the public, and if a decision last month by a federal judge in North Carolina is an indication, its contents will not be revealed anytime soon.
On Dec. 19, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Jones Jr. denied a motion made by lawyers for victims of Camp Lejeune’s toxic water to make the draft public. The magistrate denied to “compel production’’ of the study, saying it continues to undergo the peer review process. Jones said, he would not approve of sharing it yet due to how it could “undermine trust in other government studies.’’
The refusal comes at a difficult time. There is an August deadline for Camp Lejeune victims to file a claim under the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Many are concerned that by not having access to the study, victims could miss out on receiving critical information for compensation that many desperately have needed for years.
Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Back Story
From 1953-1987, the water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated in two of the base’s water treatment plants. The toxic substances included volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and benzene.
Over the years, victims have been diagnosed with serious illnesses and conditions, including bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and aplastic anemia. It is also believed that some who were exposed suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects.
While the discovery of VOCs in the water at Camp Lejeune happened in the early 1980s, it was kept quiet for almost 20 years.
Releasing the Camp Lejeune Cancer Incidence Study
The agency responsible for the study is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). ATSDR is responsible for assessing health hazards at Superfund sites identified by the federal government as toxic. Camp Lejeune was added to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List in 1989.
For the study, ATSDR researchers gathered data from cancer registries from across the country. They focused on documenting elevated rates of different types of cancer among both military personnel and civilians who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune. To compare Camp Lejeune’s cancer rates, the researchers used statistics from Camp Pendleton in California, a base whose water is free of contamination.
After eight years, the research was completed, and the next step, an outside peer review, was conducted in April of 2023.
The Camp Lejeune Justice Act: Claims and Lawsuits
On August 10, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act. Since then, thousands of Camp Lejeune toxic water victims or family members of deceased victims have been filing Camp Lejeune claims to get financial compensation from the government.
There are more than 1,100 Camp Lejeune lawsuits in federal court in North Carolina, as well as hundreds of thousands of damage claims that are pending at the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Office.
Officials have estimated that the claims alone could cost the government $3.3 trillion.
However, because of the short window to make a claim, swift legal action is vital and consulting a Camp Lejeune lawyer to determine the best path forward may be necessary.
Many people, including Michael Partain, who lived at Camp Lejeune as a child and attributes a rare case of breast cancer he developed as an adult to his time there, believe more victims still need to be made aware of the issue and the opportunity for direct financial compensation from the government.
In a November interview regarding the study’s release, Partain stressed that victims must have access to all information. “By delaying the report, the ATSDR is aiding the government in defending itself from liability at Camp Lejeune because these reports are critical to understanding the effects of our exposures.”
ATSDR Director Aaron Bernstein said that the agency initiated a statistical review in June and that a second peer review to examine revisions to the report would need to be completed. After that, the report would be reviewed by several more offices within the agency.
Bernstein did not say when he expects the study to be published.