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Houston Chronicle | Guardsmen allege KBR exposed them to carcinogens in Iraq

Houston Chronicle Website

Houston Chronicle Website

By MARY FLOOD | Houston Chronicle

More than 50 Indiana National Guardsmen have filed a lawsuit in Houston claiming KBR failed to warn them about exposure to carcinogenic chemicals at an Iraqi water facility they were guarding.

An Indiana judge tossed out the same lawsuit over cancer-causing hexavalent chromium at the Basra-area water plant, saying that Midwestern court did not have jurisdiction over the Houston-based company.

Houston lawyer Mike Doyle, who has also filed cases in Oregon and West Virginia for other soldiers claiming exposure to the chemicals,said “KBR management absolutely knew that soldiers were being exposed and management absolutely did not share the information so they could protect themselves.”

KBR has denied that they kept any contamination secret and said there is no known illness connected to the facility.

The lawsuit filed last week alleges the guardsmen from Tell City, Ind., and others working at the site were subjected to “months and months of unprotected, unknowing, direct exposure to one of the most potent carcinogens and mutagenic substances known to man.”

“The Tell City, Indiana Guardsmen were repeatedly told that there was no danger on site, even after KBR managers knew that blood testing of American civilians exposed on site confirmed elevated chromium levels,” the suit alleges.

KBR was hired to get the Iraqi water plant working through a no-bid U.S. government contract in 2003 as part of Operation Restore Iraqi Oil.

The dangerous hexavalent chromium was part of a chemical compound called sodium dichromate used by Iraqis as an anti-corrosive for clearing pipes. The soldiers who are suing, along with some family members, were guarding the facility while KBR civilians worked on restoring it.

Congress held hearings on the question of the chemical exposure at this Iraqi plant in June 2008.

Doyle said one soldier’s death has been directly linked to exposure to the orange dust with the carcinogen and others are sick with related respiratory illnesses, many have related rashes or other problems and all have higher risks of getting cancer.

Mark Lowes, KBR’s vice president of litigation, said any contamination KBR found at the site was properly reported.

“Based on testing by both the military and KBR we believe there was no hazardous exposure, and there has been no documented illness related to the facility. More importantly, our Statement of Work with the Army obligated them to provide us with a facility that was free from ‘all environmental and war hazards,’ ” Lowes said.

Lowes said some KBR employees also went into arbitration over possible chemical exposure at the Qarmat Ali water facility and that “resulted in a finding of no illness and no liability to the employees.”

For full article at the Houston Chronicle

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