Marine Families Victims Of Toxic Wells


Government moves to dismiss lawsuits and ‘make the problem go away’.

(WASHINGTON, DC) –The US Supreme Court this week decided a case in favor of an environmental polluter in North Carolina thalawsuit-veteranst affects family members of Marine veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune and injured by the base’s toxic water wells.

It’s no coincidence that the Obama Administration formally sided with CTS Corporation in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger by submitting a friend of the court briefing, which made it clear where the government stands on injuries and deaths to Marine family members: 

 “The United States also has a particular interest in the interaction of CERCLA with the North Carolina statute of repose because of ongoing litigation against the United States under the [Federal Tort Claims Act] involving allegations of contaminated drinking water at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina.”

The US Supreme Court in a 7 to 2 decision on June 9th ruled in favor of the CTS Corporation.  The lawsuit over the former CTS Corp. land was filed 24 years after the company sold the property. An appellate court said the suit could proceed, on the grounds that the federal statute of limitations preempted the state’s statute of repose. The North Carolina statue of repose establishes a 10 year clock for an injured party to file a lawsuit.  After the 10 years, lawsuits alleging injury from the environmental contamination are banned. The 1980 federal Superfund law gives the injured party 3 years to file a claim after the injured party becomes aware of the pollution.

In a minority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “the majority’s ruling allows those responsible for environmental contamination to avoid liability for the latent harm they cause if they are in the minority of states with statutes of repose. The majority’s decision provides an incentive for polluters to conceal the hazards they create until state repose periods run instead of encouraging prompt identification and remediation before harms from toxic exposure occur,” according to a report from John Henry Stam in Bloomberg BNA, dated June 9, 2014.

The Obama administration filed a request to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta the same day to dismiss all lawsuits blaming contaminated tap water at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina for birth defects, childhood cancers and other illnesses.The motion requested “judgment should be entered for the United States.”

Marines injured on active duty can’t sue the government, but their family members who ingested, cooked, and showered in the contaminated water and developed cancers and other serious medical condition can.   

We’re not talking about a small number of people. An estimated 1,000,000 people were exposed to toxic chemicals in Lejeune’s water wells over 30 years. Veterans are geographically spread over the country and most had no knowledge of the contaminated wells.      

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The base wells at Lejeune were contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and other toxic chemicals.  TCE is a known carcinogen but it can take years and often decades before cancer develops in those exposed to the contaminated water.  

In July 2007, Senator Elizabeth Dole (R, NC) attached an amendment to a broad military spending bill requiring the Secretary of the Navy to locate and notify Marines and civilians who were exposed to the contaminated water in the 1980s. 

Following notification by the media and the government, federal tort claims were filed by hundreds of former dependents. Payment is another matter.  

No compensation has been paid by the government for injuries and deaths linked to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated wells. The Navy Judge Advocate General has the tort claims and the good bet is that they are gathering dust in Navy files and unless some legal action is taken to successfully challenge the government’s action this week, the Navy may be very quick to formally deny all of the tort claims.  

 Why would the US government support an environmental polluter and an obscure North Carolina 10 year statue of repose against the interests of Marines and their dependents?   Are Marines and dependents who were poisoned by toxic water collateral damage?  The Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, seems have gotten lost in this process as the government scrambles in a damage control mode. 

The one thing for sure it wasn’t just a matter of principal. With 130 military installations in the US on the nation’s most hazardous watch list (the National Priority List), the government stands to pay out a great deal of money for injuries and deaths.

There’s never a question about the loyalty of Marines to each other.  But, it’s clear that the marching orders to government lawyers is to take prompt action to dismiss the Lejeune lawsuits and discourage anyone else from filing a tort claim for injuries from environmental pollution.  It’s not an exaggeration to say, “the government has your back but be careful of the knife in their hand.”     

President Obama signed off on The Janey Ensminger Act, providing presumptive VA health care to Lejeune veterans and their dependents for 15 medical conditions in August 2012.  However, compensation for injuries from the VA for veterans or from lawsuits for their dependents is entirely a different matter.   

Sick from cancer from Lejeune’s toxic wells and unable to work, Lejeune Marine veterans are stuck between a hard place and a rock.   

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