Pleasant Hills man refiles against KBR over toxic chemical
By Brian Bowling
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The day after the 9/11 terrorist attack, Glen Bootay of Pleasant Hills enlisted in the Army. He was fit enough to complete boot camp, advanced combat training and airborne school before he helped coalition troops take control of the Baghdad Airport.
On Tuesday, he needed a walker and assistance to navigate the halls of U.S. District Court, Downtown.
Sitting through a two-hour hearing to determine whether his lawsuit against Houston-based defense contractor KBR Inc. will continue exhausted him, his brother said.
“He’s not doing well,” Robert Bootay said later.
U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry didn’t immediately rule after listening to lawyers’ arguments. Bootay is one of at least 140 veterans who have sued KBR for health problems they link to chemical exposure at a water treatment plant in Iraq. The company is contesting the cases.
Glen Bootay, 31, undergoes chemotherapy weekly and takes up to 35 medications daily to treat medical problems that include constant headaches, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, collapse of the lungs, extreme fatigue, skin rashes, inability to sweat, vomiting, numbness, high blood sugar, kidney stones, loss of consciousness and short-term memory loss, according to his lawsuit.
“The only thing they can do now is treat the symptoms,” said Robert Bootay. “He has a battle ahead of him.”
Glen Bootay, a former combat engineer with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, claims his medical problems are the result of exposure to sodium dichromate while he provided security at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in April 2003. KBR and its subsidiaries had a no-bid Army contract that included restoring the facility so that it could provide water to Iraqi oil fields.
Sodium dichromate contains hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.
Bootay’s lawsuit claims KBR officials knew at least by May 2003, and possibly two months earlier, that the chemical posed a hazard to soldiers but didn’t inform the Army until late July or early August 2003.
Fred Jug, one of Bootay’s lawyers, argued yesterday that diagnosis and treatment within 90 days of exposure would have limited damage to his body’s cells.
Kurt Hamrock, a lawyer for KBR, said McVerry should dismiss Bootay’s lawsuit because Bootay didn’t do enough between 2003 and 2005 to determine that his developing medical problems were linked to his chemical exposure in Iraq.
“He was aware of the orange powder that was throughout the facility,” Hamrock said.
Bootay didn’t mention the powder to doctors who initially treated him and didn’t investigate to learn what the powder was or how it could affect his health, Hamrock said.
Jug said Bootay and other soldiers were too busy fighting to conduct an environmental assessment of the water treatment facility, and doctors initially said his health problems resulted from heatstroke in July 2003. Doctors at Mayo Clinic in 2005 and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2008 attributed his increasing health problems to the 2003 heatstroke, Jug said.
“Some of the best physicians in the world had no idea,” Jug argued, asking how was Bootay to know that exposure to sodium dichromate was the source of his ailments.
McVerry dismissed Bootay’s original complaint in March, ruling he waited too long to file the lawsuit. Bootay filed an amended complaint adding detail to support his contention that he didn’t learn until 2009 about the link between his exposure and his health problems.
The Army Public Health Command issued an initial report saying the soldiers’ exposure to sodium dichromate was minimal and should not affect their health long-term. The latest report, issued in May, sticks by that conclusion, said Army spokeswoman Lyn Kukral.
Houston attorney Mike Doyle represents more than 100 soldiers from Indiana, Oregon and West Virginia who are suing KBR because of exposure to the chemical at Qarmat Ali. He said in a phone interview that an important point often overlooked in the Army report is that the Public Health Command did all of its testing after KBR acknowledged a hazard existed.
“All their testing was done after the cleanup,” he said.
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