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KBR, Oregon soldiers back in federal court over medical claims Friday

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KBR, Oregon soldiers back in federal court over medical claims Friday

Mike Francis, The Oregonian By Mike Francis, The Oregonian The Oregonian
Fredrick D. Joe / The Oregonian 2009

Fredrick D. Joe / The Oregonian 2009 | Oregon National Guard veterans Larry Roberta, left and Scott Ashby testify in 2009 before an Oregon House committee about a bill that would provide payments to Oregon Guard troops who develop cancer from exposure to hexavalent chromium. At right is the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Chip Shields.

Lawyers for military contractor KBR Inc. will ask a federal judge in Portland Friday to rule against a group of 34 Oregon Guard soldiers who say the contractor knowingly exposed them to a carcinogenic compound in Iraq in 2003.

Attorneys of the Houston firm of Susman Godfrey will argue that the soldiers’ lawyers have failed to prove that the troops’ medical symptoms were caused by exposure to the compound.

The soldiers sued KBR after they provided security for the contractors working to repair a water treatment facility at Qarmat Ali in southern Iraq.

In Friday’s hearing, KBR’s lawyers will argue before Judge Paul Papak that the plaintiffs have failed to prove that their medical symptoms, which range from skin irritation to severe gastrointestinal and respiratory distress, were caused by exposure to sodium dichromate in 2003. They will also ask the judge to strike the testimony offered by a Texas doctor and professor who filed a “tardy” report on the soldiers’ symptoms.

Lawyers for the soldiers,who include Michael Doyle of the Houston firm of Doyle Raizner and Portland attorney David Sugerman, will argue that evidence shows KBR knew of the dangers at the site and failed to inform the soldiers in a timely way. They are asking the judge to let the lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial in June, proceed.

The soldiers’ lawyers said they don’t expect a ruling Friday.

The Oregon soldiers, along with others from Indiana, South Carolina and West Virginia, as well as Royal British airmen, accuse the company of withholding information about the dangers of sodium dichromate, a powdery compound that contains hexavalent chromium. The corrosion-fighting compound was found to have tainted the soil at Qarmat Ali and was blowing freely about the site. Many of the soldiers now are afflicted with symptoms that can be associated with exposure to hexavalent chromium.

KBR has denied that it withheld information from those who may have been exposed. And it says the soldiers’ lawyers have ignored the fact that more than 87 percent of the soldiers did not report any symptoms of exposure in 2003.

The soldiers’ lawyers contend that KBR itself prevented the clear discovery of whether the soldiers had ingested dangerous levels of the compound by delaying notification and testing for the wrong chemicals. In their filing for today’s hearing, KBR lawyers call the assertion “outrageous.”

A separate case against KBR is being brought by Indiana and West Virginia soldiers in Texas. That trial is scheduled for next September.

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