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Defense Contractor KBR Tries to Toss Expert Witnesses from Oregon Guard Trial

Defense contractor KBR tries to toss expert witness from Oregon Guard trial

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 1:24 PM     Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 1:41 PM
Mike Francis, The Oregonian By Mike Francis, The Oregonian
Hexavalent Chromium haunts soldier father of 5View full sizeSome soldiers in Oregon Army National Guard are in a lawsuit against defense contractor KBR for their exposure to the carcinogen hexavalent chromium while guarding a water treatment plant in Iraq in 2003.

Lawyers for a set of Oregon Guard soldiers and for defense contractor KBR Inc. grilled an expert on the health hazards posed by exposure to hexavalent chromium and another on air pollution in the first morning of a hearing in federal court in PortlandWednesday.

The water treatment plant at Qarmat Ali “would be a Superfund site in the United States” because of contamination by sodium dichromate, the carcinogenic compound containing hexavalent chromium, said Herman Gibb, testifying on behalf of the soldiers. Gibb, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for 29 years and now runs a consultancy in Virginia, performed a widely recognized study on the hazards of hexavalent chromium exposure at a sodium dichromate factory in Baltimore.

As a result of the abundance of sodium dichromate at the plant in southern Iraq, soldiers were exposed to “injurious levels” of the carcinogen, Gibb had testified earlier.

Lawyers for KBR pressed Gibb about whether he’d studied medical records for the soldiers — he had not — and whether or not their self-reported symptoms could be relied upon in reckoning their exposure.

The case brought by the Oregon soldiers, as well as a parallel case brought in Texas by a set of Indiana Guard members, accuses KBR of knowingly exposing them to sodium dichromate, a carcinogenic compound that contains hexavalent chromium, a known health risk. The compound was used to prevent rust and was present at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant when the soldiers were providing security for KBR contractors working there in 2003.

KBR acknowledges that sodium dichromate was present at the Qarmat Ali plant in southern Iraq, but says it didn’t knowingly expose any troops to health risks.

Also testifying Wednesday morning was chemical engineer Jim Tarr, hired by the soldiers’ lawyers to dissect the analysis of KBR’s samples of air and soil at Qarmat Ali. He told the court that KBR’s scientists relied on inappropriate data and had used methodologies that produced misleading results. At the midday break, KBR’s lawyers were attacking Tarr for not creating his own study and not comparing KBR’s studies with those conducted by the Army.

Wednesday’s testimony will be followed by arguments on Thursday. Next month, lawyers for the soldiers and KBR will contest KBR’s request that Judge Papak dismiss the lawsuit. If the case proceeds to trial, it is scheduled to begin in October, a month after the scheduled start of the trial in Texas.

— Mike Francis


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