News Feature | June 26, 2014

Supreme Court Rules Against Victims Of Water Contamination

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


In a major decision announced this month, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that will set back military officials and their family members who fell ill after drinking contaminated water on a Marine base in North Carolina. 

"Victims of contaminated water that wasn't discovered for decades lost their effort to sue polluters at the Supreme Court," USA Today reported

The case, CTS Corp v. Waldburger, will likely affect victims exposed to a cancer-causing chemical at Camp LeJeune, where the drinking water was contaminated by trichloroethylene between 1953 and 1987, ABC News reported. A significant number of base residents developed cancer and other health problems. 

The recent Supreme Court case "concerned a 1980 federal law that made it easier to sue over environmental contamination, which can be hard to discover and may cause symptoms only decades later. The law said state statutes of limitations do not begin to run until plaintiffs learn of, or should have discovered, the harm in question," the New York Times reported.

The issue before the court was whether the federal law preempted the state time limits. The court said no, and the consequences could be far-reaching. "The decision, in a 7-to-2 vote, is likely to affect similar suits," the Times reported. 

“Time is the controlling factor,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said, per McClatchy Washington Bureau.

The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

“Instead of encouraging prompt identification and remediation of toxic contamination before it can kill, the court’s decision gives contaminators an incentive to conceal the hazards they have created until the repose period has run its full course," she wrote, per the Times

Jerry Ensminger, a retired Marine who was on the base during the contamination years, said the fight is not over, tbe Jacksonville Daily News reported. He referred to the Supreme Court decision as “absolute insanity.” 

"Ensminger, who lost his nine-year-old daughter, Janey, to cancer said he is also left to wonder how people are going to file for damages when some of the cancers caused by the contamination do not present symptoms within the statute’s required time frame," the report said. 

For more policy news, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.

Image credit: "Supreme Court," © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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