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WSJ Law Blog – A Smoking Gun in Soldiers’ Qarmat Ali Case?




Click to go to WSJ coverage on Qarmat Ali


By Dionne Searcey
Publish on 11/12/2010

Update, 5:10 EDT: KBR this afternoon offered this response to the document: “It appears that plaintiffs’ lawyers improperly are attempting to influence public opinion, and the opinion of potential jury pools, by selectively disclosing only a few documents out of the many thousands of documents produced in this case.”

KBR noted, among other things, that other documents say medical tests disprove their allegations about the chemical causing injuries and that the U.S. Army, not KBR, was obligated to be sure the Qarmat Ali site was clear of hazards.


National Guard soldiers in Indiana, West Virginia and Oregon for several years have alleged that defense contractor KBR knew it was directing soldiers to work in an area in Iraq coated with a toxic chemical that could harm them.

Now, a new document in the Oregon litigation purports to back up their claims.

The document, minutes of an Oct 2, 2003 meeting about blood and urine tests from workers at an Iraqi water treatment plant at Qarmat Ali, indicates KBR managers not only knew of the chemical’s danger but also knew workers continued to use it long after alarms were raised, according to this report in The Oregonian.

The soldiers were tasked with guarding Iraqi workers in an area where orange powder, sodium dichromate, coated nearly everything and blew in the wind. The soldiers said they didn’t know the dust was toxic and have sued in Portland and in Texas venues.

KBR spokeswoman Heather Browne on Friday declined comment, saying the company has yet to see the document.

KBR has in the past said it took action to warn of the dangers once it learned about them. The company has also disputed that it knowingly harmed anyone and noted that an arbitration ruling in June dismissed all claims against it by its own employees who had been working at the Qarmat Ali facility.

We’ve written in the past about the litigation — filed by the Indiana Guardsmen — and how it highlights a legal doctrine that blocks soldiers on active duty from being compensated from war zone injuries.

The Portland lawsuit concerns Oregon soldiers who were at Qarmat Ali from May 2003 to June 2003. The memo says that a KBR manager learned about the chemical’s presence that May.

The minutes say managers “around July” realized that sodium dichromate (a hexavalent chromium compound made famous by Erin Brockovich) “was in more places than supposed to be, basically open to atmosphere, scattered all over the water treatment plant.”

The minutes note the chemical has been banned in the U.S. and also say the “company will be liable if let this happen” and “if exposed too long may cause death.”

KBR encouraged the Iraqis to stop using the chemical, which is used to fight rust, according to the Oregonian.

The Oregon lawsuit is going forward even as KBR has asked the Ninth Circuit for an early review of whether the federal court in Portland has jurisdiction, the Oregonian says.

Click here for more stories on Qarmat Ali at WSJ



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