A civil lawsuit is being tried in a federal court that raises some very interesting issues. It’s alleged in the suit that a war contractor knew a critical southern Iraq oilfield plant was riddled with a well-known toxin, but ignored the risk to soldiers while rushing the project along, firing a whistleblower and covering up the presence of the chemical when faced with exposure. Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), the Defendant, claims that the soldiers’ injuries weren’t caused by their exposure to the toxin, called sodium dichromate. KBR claims it had no knowledge of the chemical’s presence at the plant. They say when they found it, they promptly and repeatedly warned the military of the danger.
The suit was filed by 12 Oregon National Guardsmen who were exposed to the toxin, a known carcinogen, and who developed respiratory illnesses. Interestingly, the soldiers had a chemical hazard suit that they would have put on had they had known about the dangerous condition. KBR says it tried to warn the U.S. Army about the dangers of sodium dichromate. But the company didn’t warn the soldiers themselves because “that wasn’t the proper channel of communication.”
The suit dates to prewar Iraq, when the U.S. Army feared then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein would react to an invasion by setting his own oil fields ablaze, as he had done in Kuwait after the Gulf War. The army contracted KBR and gave it the job of assessing and repairing Iraqi oilfield installations. One of the most central — and critical to a continued supply of oil from the Gulf — was called Qarmat Ali. That faciltity operated as a water treatment plant, injecting heavier, treated water into the ground to force oil to rise through wells to the surface. One of the chemicals Iraqi workers had been using was sodium dichromate, a substance which has been restricted in the U.S. for years over environmental and health concerns. It appears the ground was contaminated with sodium dichromate.
The soldiers returned to the U.S. suffering from a number of respiratory problems, migraines and lung issues. They filed suit against KBR in June 2009. The Oregon soldiers were joined by Guardsmen from Indiana and West Virginia, some of whom are also involved in suits against KBR.
The soldiers contend a whistleblower was fired by KBR after he, in August or September 2003, tried to blow the whistle on the company’s role in the deception of the soldiers. It’s claimed in the suit that KBR was seeking an incentive from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to finish the work quickly and would not allow complaints from employees about safety concerns. KBR claims the whistleblower was dismissed as a “disruptive force” at meetings and that he didn’t know that KBR and the U.S. Army were already in talks about the toxin.
The trial is expected to last for several weeks. It will be watched with interest. Mike Doyle, a lawyer from Houston, Texas, represents the soldiers in this case. Hopefully, he will be successful at the conclusion of the trial for his clients.
Source: CBS News
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