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Indiana soldiers refile exposure lawsuit

By Eric Bradner of Evansville Courier & Press


INDIANAPOLIS — After their lawsuit was dismissed in Indiana, attorneys for a group of National Guard soldiers have refiled it in Texas.

The lawsuit against a defense contractor claims the company knew of the presence of a deadly toxin at a site the soldiers were guarding in Iraq but waited before telling anyone.

The lawsuit against KBR was filed Tuesday in a federal court in Houston.

Brought by a group of attorneys led by Houston-based Mike Doyle, the lawsuit was dismissed in February by a federal judge in Indiana. The judge ruled the court lacks “personal jurisdiction” to take up the matter and did not consider the merits of the lawsuit.

The soldiers, about 140 from Indiana, say they were exposed to sodium dichromate, an anti-corrosive that was likely dusted across the wind-swept desert near Basra when Iraqis cut open storage containers as they fled the site at the beginning of the 2003 American-led invasion.

Known carcinogen

The soldiers were guarding Qar-mat Ali, a plant being operated by Houston-based KBR where water was pumped underground to boost oil production.

Sodium dichromate contains hexavalent chromium, a known human carcinogen. Exposure to the toxin, experts say, can cause nosebleeds and severe respiratory problems, as well as heightened risks of cancer, and kidney and liver diseases.

The soldiers’ lawyers charge that KBR was aware of the risk but kept it secret. KBR has said it collected air samples that showed low levels of the chemical. Doyle’s team also is representing soldiers in cases pending in Oregon and West Virginia.

One of the exposed soldiers, Lt. Col. James Gentry, 52, of Mitchell, Ind., died in November. Gentry, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed in 2006 with a rare form of lung cancer. Military doctors say it most likely was caused by the exposure.

“Only the good Lord knows what happened at that site,” said Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, Indiana’s top-ranking National Guard general, at the funeral of Gentry, who commanded the group including soldiers from a battalion based in Jasper, Ind., and Tell City, Ind.

Another soldier, David Moore, 42, of Dubois, Ind., died in 2008.

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