The Silent Intrusion: TCE and PCE in Camp Lejeune’s Water


In the peaceful setting of Camp Lejeune, a place bustling with military activity, a threat remained hidden and undetected for an extended period. The water supply of the base became contaminated with hazardous substances, specifically trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE). This occurrence serves as a stark reminder of how effortlessly pollutants can find their way into our lives from the surrounding environment.

This article takes us on an exploration, aiming to uncover intricate paths through which TCE and PCE seeped into Camp Lejeune unnoticed. This quiet intrusion jeopardized the health of military personnel and their families, as we delve into the details within these lines.

The Camp Lejeune Contamination

During the 1950s to the 1980s, individuals at Camp Lejeune, including families, tragically encountered contaminated drinking water. This peril remained unnoticed, setting the stage for an impending health crisis.

This exposure occurred due to leaks, spills, and careless disposal practices. These actions enabled harmful substances like trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) to seep into the base’s water supply systems. The repercussions of this contamination were extensive, impacting both on-base residences and various military installations.

As the devastating health repercussions, such as cancer, came to light, individuals who were affected pursued legal avenues for seeking restitution. This led to the initiation of the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit. 

A recent Camp Lejeune lawsuit update highlights legal experts’ involvement in various critical tasks. These include organizing settlement talks, overseeing vital discovery procedures, and carefully selecting cases for significant bellwether trials. Additionally, they are ensuring clear communication with the public about the advancement of over 70,000 filed administrative claims.

The legislative landscape saw a significant development with the enactment of the PACT Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in August. 

A significant milestone, this act introduced a structured claims procedure. TorHoerman Law notes that it provided the avenue for seeking compensation from the Navy for water contamination incidents that occurred between 1953 and 1987.

Amidst this ongoing legal battle, fresh cases are consistently being filed, demonstrating the relentless pursuit of justice for the afflicted. Notably, the litigation process persists subsequent to the government’s acknowledgment of the gravity of the contamination issue.

Understanding TCE and PCE

Trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), also known as perchloroethylene, are colorless, volatile organic compounds commonly used as industrial solvents. Their widespread use in cleaning, degreasing, and dry cleaning processes made them prevalent in various manufacturing and military operations, including those at Camp Lejeune. 

Regrettably, their enduring presence in the environment and capacity to dissolve in water contribute to their high mobility. Additionally, their tendency to evaporate into the air poses a potential threat as harmful pollutants.

Infiltration Routes: How the Contaminants Entered the Camp Lejeune Base

The contamination’s source was external to the base, primarily traced to the ABC One-Hour Cleaners. This establishment’s improper waste disposal practices led to the release of PCE into the water supply of the base. The septic tank system on the dry-cleaning property contributed to the leakage of PCE into the surrounding soil and groundwater. 

Additionally, PCE was buried onsite, exacerbating the contamination issue. The dire consequences of these actions unfolded as the contaminant infiltrated a water treatment plant serving the Tarawa Terrace housing community, affecting around 6,200 residents. 

The dry-cleaning site, sprawling over an acre of land, met its end with demolition in 2017. Subsequently, its foundation remained as it transitioned into an EPA Superfund Site designated for federal cleanup endeavors. 

However, attributing the entire Camp Lejeune water contamination to the dry cleaning site would be an incomplete narrative. The contamination crisis had further implications for the Hadnot Point water system. This system provided water to vital facilities on the base, encompassing barracks, recreational spaces, schools, and the hospital. 

In this system, alarmingly high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) were discovered. A report by the National Research Council revealed that the sources of contamination encompass leaks from underground storage tanks and industrial site spills.

The gravity of the contamination crisis came to light in the 1980s when the Marine Corps conducted thorough water tests at Camp Lejeune. These tests revealed startlingly high levels of pollutants, particularly at the Hadnot Point system. 

For context, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the permissible TCE concentration in drinking water at a maximum of five parts per billion (ppb).

However, the contamination levels at Hadnot Point were shockingly elevated, reaching up to an alarming 1,400 ppb. Similarly, the Tarawa Terrace system registered PCE levels as high as 215 ppb, far exceeding the permissible limit of 5 ppb.

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) were not the sole problematic compounds detected in the Camp Lejeune water supply. Benzene, a recognized carcinogen, was also found in the water wells, along with an additional 70 unidentified secondary chemicals. 

The contamination’s seriousness was exacerbated by the base’s delayed revelation of the pollution’s true scope. This led to personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune being exposed to the pollutants for several decades. Unbeknownst to them, their daily activities, such as bathing and consuming water, placed themselves and their families at considerable risk.


The TCE and PCE contamination at Camp Lejeune remains a haunting chapter in both military and environmental history. The tragedy exposed the vulnerability of service members and their families to hidden environmental hazards. 

The aftermath of this contamination led to significant changes in how we address environmental risks, both within military installations and in broader society. 

The lessons gleaned from Camp Lejeune highlight the vital significance of protecting our water supplies and community health against the dangers of industrial pollution.

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