Ex-British soldiers could receive six-figure payouts due to ‘poisoned water’ fears at US base | World | New

Ex-British soldiers could receive six-figure payouts due to fears of ‘poisoned water’ at US base (Image: GETTY)

Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, remains an important training base for Royal Marines, Gurkhas and infantrymen. But between 1953 and 1987, it held a dark secret: the systematic contamination of its water supplies which contained toxins 240 to 3,400 times the levels permitted by safety standards.

Royal Marines and British soldiers who served there, or who went there for extended training exercises, may have contracted a range of serious illnesses later in life.

These range from leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes to bladder, kidney, liver and lung cancers as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and even Parkinson’s disease.

The contamination is believed to have affected water at two of eight water treatment plants, where more than 70 chemicals and toxins have been identified, suggesting a range of factors at play.

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Northern California

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Northern California (Picture: Wikipedia)

These include the presence of volatile organic compounds such as perchlorethylene, a dry-cleaning solvent – believed to come from a nearby but off-base dry cleaner – to on-base units using products chemicals such as degreasers to clean military equipment, and underground fuel leaks. storage tanks.

Also found were benzene, believed to have come from an 800,000 gallon leak from the base’s fuel farm, and strontium-90, an isotope known to cause leukemia and other cancers that entered the supply. water from a radioactive dump site near the camp’s firing range.

Basically, base commanders were initially made aware of the concerns in the 1970s, but failed to act on them and even refused to pass on the contents of independent testing to national water authorities.

A 1981 document admitting the base was aware of benzene in its water supplies was later discovered by retired USMC Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, who had served half his career 24 at the base and including nine-year-old daughter Janey. died of cancer in 1985.

In August of this year, US President Joe Biden, responding to mounting pressure from more than a million potential US plaintiffs, signed the Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022, allowing military veterans to file civil lawsuits against the US government for damage caused by at least thirty days. exposure (including in utero exposure) at Camp LeJeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.

Such is the close bond between the British and American armed forces that over 750 British servicemen and civilians are permanently based in the United States at any one time.

Camp LeJeune is no exception and has at least one senior Royal Marine officer on permanent assignment.

The camp hosts an annual intramural rifle and pistol competition in which the Royal Marines regularly participate and drills.

These are sometimes with junior officers from both Marine Corps, or may be larger exercises either on the base itself. At other times, the base is used as a landing pad before forces are deployed elsewhere.

Speaking last night, General Julian Thompson, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War, said: ‘The Royal Marines have used Camp LeJeune since the Korean War. I went there myself.”

Last night British lawyers said they expected hundreds, if not thousands, of British veterans and their families to come forward.

“The criteria is that a veteran has spent at least 30 days at Camp LeJeune during that period but, interestingly, it doesn’t have to be consecutive,” said Simon Ellis, partner of Hugh James Solicitors, who received awards. award for its representation of military veterans in a variety of fields.

“There is now a two-year window during which those affected can file complaints.

“While many have come forward in the US, the issue is fairly unknown here in the UK, and we are already taking steps to speak to the Ministry of Defense – which is not a party to his case – and the military charities.”

He added: ‘The concern now is the range of conditions such exposure should have caused. It’s very Erin Brockovich-esque, in that we’re talking about birth defects and the onset of serious illnesses, from kidney cancer to leukemia, bladder cancer and even Parkinson’s disease, caused by contaminated drinking water.

“The problem is that the time spent on a US base more than 30 years ago might not be at the forefront of a veteran’s mind if diagnosed with a serious illness later in life, although that there may well be a connection.”

He said the U.S. court system allows for very high punitive and compensatory damages, and it’s possible the U.S. government will try to settle the case before it goes to court.

“Damages will be determined in the United States, and I suspect we’re looking at six-figure payouts for the most severely affected,” he said.

“These are life-shortening illnesses and we anticipate that unfortunately a number of our clients will be represented by their estates as they have already passed away.”

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