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Qarmat Ali History

In 2003, KBR was hired and entrusted by the United States government to assess and repair the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant near Basra, Iraq as part of the U.S.’s efforts to restore Iraqi infrastructure. The purpose of the Qarmat Ali plant was to provide water necessary for injection into Iraq’s oil fields, in order to restore Iraq’s oil industry facilities.

KBR’s work at Qarmat Ali was governed by Task Order 3, a specific contract issued to KBR by the U.S. government under its LOGCAP program. It provided for the assessment and restoration of the site. Under KBR’s contract, financial awards from the United States government were tied to adhering to a specific completion schedule. The faster the Qarmat Ali restoration was complete, the greater KBR’s potential remuneration.
KBR’s work at Qarmat Ali began in March 2003, and American and British military forces were assigned to Qarmat Ali in order to provide security for the civilian contractors while they completed their work. The American military forces included National Guardsman from Oregon, Indiana, and West Virginia.

KBR personnel became aware that the site was heavily contaminated with sodium dichromate, an extraordinarily toxic chemical classified as the most potential human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Yellow and orange dust, a telltale sign of sodium dichromate contamination, was spread over acres of the site and blowing openly in the wind. Despite the obvious danger posed by this contamination, KBR management failed to inform the militaries of the threat, concealed this information, and may have even continued to use sodium dichromate, which is an anti-corrosive agent, at the plant. Giving the full truth about the dangers of sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali might have forced the shutdown of the site for remediation (as ultimately happened), which would have impacted KBR’s contract awards tied to meeting specific timing milestones.

The military personnel and even some sixty-percent of KBR’s own personnel at the site began to exhibit symptoms of sodium dichromate poisoning. The symptoms were misattributed to the harsh Iraqi weather conditions. Then, in August 2003, several months after work had begun and soldiers had been at Qarmat Ali, KBR managers showed up wearing full chemical protective gear.

The soldiers, seeing the KBR managers wearing protection against an apparently serious but un-communicated chemical danger, began to realize that something was amiss, and that the nosebleeds, rashes, and respiratory problems they were experiencing may not have been caused by the harsh Iraqi weather conditions, as they had been led to believe.

The late Lieutenant Colonel James Gentry of the Indiana National Guard raised the “red flag” for his unit to the United States Army Corps of Engineers. As a result of Lt. Col. Gentry’s actions, the Indiana National Guard was pulled from Qarmat Ali in August 2003, and 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, even though there is substantial evidence to show that these tests were not correctly and timely conducted and a government agency has determined that the results warrant a “low level of confidence.”
Consistent with their exposures, many of the soldiers who served at Qarmat Ali are continuing to experience health problems, and others may yet manifest illnesses from their exposure, including cancers. In 2008, Lt. Col. Gentry, who had no history of lung cancer in his family or smoking habit, passed away of lung cancer after a five-year fight with the disease. Doctors have attributed his death to his exposure to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali. Also in 2008, National Guardsman David Moore passed away of terminal lung disease attributed to his exposure to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali.

The Litigation

Several of the military personnel who served at Qarmat Ali, including the Oregon, Indiana, and West Virginia National Guardsman and British Royal Air Force, have brought suit against KBR as a result of their exposure to sodium dichromate. Two separate lawsuits are pending, one in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, and the other in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

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Posted by on Oct 27 2010. Filed under Facts & Details, Qamat Ali Overview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Qarmat Ali History”

  1. […] of harm related to soldiers who are suing the company for their exposure to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant in Iraq in […]

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