Evidence indicating lung cancer risk in veterans exposed to volatile organic compounds found at Camp Lejeune

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on August 11th, 2020

Historical concentrations of specific volatile organic compounds and other chemicals found at the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune were sufficiently elevated to raise potential health concerns. Vinyl chloride is classified as Group 1 carcinogen by the IARC, with known target sites including the liver, lungs, and connective tissues.

In the early 1980s at the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Lejeune, NC, it was discovered that three on-base wells were contaminated with the volatile organic compounds trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser, perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning agent, and vinyl chloride, a widely produced synthetic plastic polymer:

  • Hadnot Point
  • Tarawa Terrace
  • Holcomb Boulevard

During dry spring/summer months, the Holcomb Boulevard system occasionally required additional resources from the contaminated Hadnot Point system to meet demand. Thus, family housing units in the Holcomb Boulevard system were exposed to dangerous chemicals on a daily basis.

Military service members and their families living or working at the United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were exposed to chemicals that contained high levels of toxicity.

Vinyl chloride exposure associated with an increased risk of lung cancer

Vinyl chloride is classified as Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), with known target sites including the liver, lungs, and connective tissues.

If you lived or worked at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, you may have been exposed to volatile organic compounds.

Since vinyl chloride is a gas, the primary route of exposure is inhalation. Vinyl chloride is readily absorbed from the lungs.

However, vinyl chloride can enter the soil following the improper disposal of chemical wastes. Because vinyl chloride is a degradation product of trichloroethylene (TCE), the compound can be found in soil that was originally contaminated with TCE.

Potential health effects from long-term exposure to vinyl chloride above the maximum contaminant level:

  • respiratory tract irritation causing coughing and/or shortness of breath
  • thickening and inflammation of the airways
  • damage to the tiny air sacs (alveoli) that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • gene mutations that eventually lead to cancer

Animal studies indicate that repeated exposure to vinyl chloride results in a high incidence of bronchioloalveolar adenoma.

Lung cancer, like all forms of cancer, occurs when a cell mutates. The mutated cell does not contain the correct DNA to stop reproduction. Therefore, the body continues to produce mutated cells that eventually form a tumor.

Did you serve at Camp Lejeune and developed lung cancer due to toxic exposure? We can help you

If you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, dry cough or wheezing, chest pain or tightness, see your family doctor and let him/her know if you lived or worked at Camp Lejeune before 1987.

Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days from August 1953 through December 1987, and their family members, are eligible for compensation. Those 30 days don't have to be consecutive; it is required that you have 30 days total during the time frame. In other words, if you served at Camp Lejeune for two weeks and then went back several years later for another few weeks - all within the period from 1953 to 1987- you meet the 30-day requirement. If you or a loved one were stationed at Camp Lejeune and have questions about eligibility for VA benefits, contact us today. We provide free consultations to veterans and their families.