Sixteen Indiana National Guard soldiers have filed suit against KBR Inc., a big defense contractor with very strong political connections, saying its employees knowingly allowed them to be exposed to a toxic chemical in Iraq five years ago. The federal suit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges the soldiers were exposed to a carcinogen while protecting an Iraqi water pumping plant shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003. The complaint alleges that Houston-based KBR knew at least as early as May 2003 that the plant was contaminated with sodium dichromate, a known carcinogen, but concealed the danger from civilian workers and 139 soldiers from the Indiana Guard’s 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry.
The chemical, used to remove pipe corrosion, is especially dangerous because it contains hexavalent chromium, which is known to cause birth defects and cancer, particularly lung cancer. The cancer can take years to develop. Some of the soldiers who served at the site now have respiratory system tumors associated with hexavalent chromium exposure. The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for medical costs, monitoring for cancer and other health problems and unspecified monetary damages.
The lawsuit alleges that KBR knew of the contamination and played down the danger. When Guard members and American civilians working at the plant began to have nosebleeds, KBR managers told them they were simply caused by the dry desert air, according to allegations in the lawsuit. Nosebleeds are a symptom of acute hexavalent chromium poisoning. The work wasn’t shut down until September 2003, after KBR managers in full environmental protective gear inspected the plant while workers and Guard members remained unprotected. The plant has since reopened, but workers now wear protective gear. The extent of the company’s knowledge of the hazard didn’t become clear to the Plaintiffs in this case until Congressional hearings this June.
KBR used to be a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., the oilfield services conglomerate whose chief executive from 1995 to 2000 was Vice President Dick Cheney. KBR became a separate public company last year, but it still has strong political connections and has done very well financially in Iraq. Hopefully, Michael P. Doyle of Houston, Texas, the lead lawyer in this case, will be successful in this case for his clients.
Source: Associated Press
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