News on KBR Chemical Exposure Litigation

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KBR’s fight to hide what happened at Qarmat Ali

In early 2003, military contractor KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, was awarded a billion-dollar, no-bid contract by the United States government to assess and repair the Iraqi oil infrastructure, including the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant near Basra, Iraq. The plan was to restore the Qarmat Ali plant to provide water for injection wells used in Iraq’s oil fields. American and British military forces provided security for the civilian contractors who repaired the plant.

KBR management knew early on that the site was heavily contaminated with sodium dichromate, also known as hexavalent chromium, a highly carcinogenic anti-corrosive agent used to keep the pipes cleared. Yellow and orange dust, a sign of sodium dichromate contamination, was spread over acres of the plant site. The chemical dust blew openly in the wind. KBR neglected to inform the militaries and the civilian contractors  actually working at Qarmat Ali of the contamination threat. Military personnel and 60 percent of KBR’s personnel at the site soon exhibited symptoms of sodium dichromate poisoning. KBR told soldiers their nosebleeds, rashes, and respiratory problems likely were caused by harsh Iraqi weather conditions — yet KBR managers soon were wearing chemical protection gear during their own visits to the site even while telling military personnel there was no danger.

Lt. Col. James Gentry, the Indiana National Guard commander, raised the “red flag” for his unit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As a result of Lt. Col. Gentry’s actions, the Indiana National Guard was pulled from Qarmat Ali at the end of August 2003. The Army sent KBR a request for all relevant facts, including testing data from the site. KBR informed the Army that its test results were “preliminary” and could not be provided. KBR continues to maintain that tests show that there was no significant sodium dichromate contamination at Qarmat Ali. The validity of the tests is in doubt. A federal government agency has determined that the results warrant a “low level of confidence.”

Many soldiers who served at Qarmat Ali are experiencing health problems. In 2009, Lt. Col. Gentry, who did not smoke and had no family history of lung cancer, died of lung cancer after a five-year fight with the disease. Doctors attributed his death to his exposure to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali. Another Indiana National Guardsman who served at Qarmat Ali, David Moore, died from lung disease attributed to sodium dichromate exposure.  A number of other veterans have serious health issues associated with sodium dichromate exposure.

Today, the soldiers’ two-year-old litigation against KBR continues in Oregon and Texas federal courts. Current and former KBR personnel have repeatedly claimed in sworn testimony that they cannot remember important details about their involvement, and the company has withheld or has claimed to have lost significant documentary evidence related to Qarmat Ali.

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