Camp Pendleton, a sprawling military base in California, has been home to thousands of Marines and their families since 1942. But for decades, these servicemen have been unknowingly exposed to dangerous chemicals in their drinking water and soil. These chemicals, known as PFAS, can cause cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.
So, how did this happen, and what is being done to protect the people who lived and worked on the base?
What are PFAS and where did they come from?
PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of man-made chemicals that are widely used in consumer and industrial products. They are also known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily in the environment or the human body. Some of the most common sources are commercial and industrial, such as firefighting foams, non-stick cookware, water-resistant fabrics, cleaning products and cosmetics.
At Camp Pendleton, PFAS contamination is mainly linked to the use of firefighting foams that were sprayed on aircraft and vehicle fires on the base. These foams contained two of the most notorious PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). These chemicals seeped into the groundwater and soil, polluting the base’s water supply. According to an internal study by the Department of Defense from April 2022, Camp Pendleton served unsafe water containing PFOA and PFOS to 175,000 members a year at its northern water treatment plant.
What are the health risks of PFAS exposure?
PFAS exposure can have serious and long-term consequences for human health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), some of the illnesses that have been linked to PFAS exposure are:
Low birth weight
Increased cholesterol levels
These health effects may not show up for years, or even decades after exposure. Therefore, it is important for service members and their families who lived or worked at Camp Pendleton to monitor their health and seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms.
What is being done to address the contamination at Camp Pendleton?
Camp Pendleton has been designated as a “Superfund Clean Up Site” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meaning that it requires extensive remediation to remove or reduce the contamination. The base also has been cited for numerous violations of federal laws that protect drinking water and prevent pollution.
Some steps have been taken to improve its water quality, such as blending water from different wells, installing filters and monitoring systems, and conducting regular testing. However, these measures may not be enough to ensure the safety of the water or the people who consume it. The EPA’s advisory level for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water is 70 parts per trillion (ppt), but this level is not legally enforceable, and may not be protective enough. In June 2022, the agency revised its standard to less than 1 ppt, based on new scientific evidence. This means that Camp Pendleton’s water may still exceed the safe level by more than 20 times.
Moreover, the Department of Defense has not published its internal study on PFAS contamination to its public website, making it difficult for service members and civilians to access information about their exposure and health risks. However, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that advocates for environmental health, has made the report public and urged Congress to take action to protect service members from PFAS contamination.
What can service members and civilians do to seek justice and compensation?
Service members and civilians who have been harmed by PFAS exposure at Camp Pendleton may have legal options to seek justice and compensation. In March 2022, Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which allows lawsuits for appropriate relief for harm caused by exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, another military base with a history of PFAS contamination. This law may apply to some service members who served at both Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton.
If you or a loved one have been exposed to PFAS at Camp Pendleton and developed a serious illness, you may be entitled to compensation. At the Herd Law Firm, PLLC, we support every man, woman, and child exposed to contaminants at Camp Lejeune (separately or in conjunction with Camp Pendleton), and believe you deserve quality, attentive legal representation. We are proud to be able to aid our veterans and their families in seeking restitution for their injuries. I, Charles Herd, am the proud son of a World War II veteran, and Brandon Francis has bravely fought for our country as well!
Myers, M. (2022, December 15). Troops at two dozen bases exposed to toxic chemicals in drinking water. Military Times. Retrieved from https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2022/12/15/troops-at-two-dozen-bases-exposed-to-toxic-chemicals-in-drinking-water/
More than 600,000 service members given ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water | Environmental Working Group. (2022, December 15). Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/2022/12/more-600000-service-members-given-forever-chemicals-drinking
Ritchie, E. I. (2023, March 28). Camp Pendleton is latest California agency to find PFAS chemical in drinking water. East Bay Times. Retrieved from https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2023/03/28/camp-pendleton-is-latest-agency-to-find-pfas-chemical-in-drinking-water/
Ritchie, E. I. (2018, January 16). Internal documents reveal Camp Pendleton’s water woes predated summer crisis. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/sd-me-watchdog-pendleton-20180116-story.html
Camp Lejeune water contamination health issues | Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/camp-lejeune-water-contamination/
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With over 35 years of litigation and management experience, Charles Herd concentrates on Jones Act and maritime-related claims, maritime products liability cases and maritime-related commercial matters.