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KBR: Private Military Cancer (PMC) Provider? Part II

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Back in April I wrote about the lawsuit filed by Indiana National Guardsmen, against KBR. The suite suit alleges that KBR knowingly allowed exposure to the toxic chemical sodium dichromate, also known as hexavalent chromium. It was widely present as an orange-colored dust that soldiers assigned to guard the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in southern Iraq could not avoid inhaling. Sodium dichromate chromium is a powerful carcinogen known to cause lung, nasal and other cancers, other severe respiratory problems and other medical problems.

Yesterday, six more British Iraq vets and a former Indiana National Guardsmen sued KBR in Houston federal court over alleged toxic exposure at the Qarmat Ali site. This makes a total of 98 U.S. and U.K. vets and two families of vets who have died since serving in Iraq that have sued KBR in three cases pending in Texas, Oregon and West Virginia federal courts.

The amended complaint also includes recent confirmation from the U.S. Army that Indiana National Guard Commander Jim Gentry's death from cancer resulted from his service exposure.

Here are some excerpts from the amended complaint.

As outlined further below, Halliburton/KBR is apparently still withholding from the United States Army the full extent of Halliburton/KBR's managers' knowledge of the dangers to the soldiers and others onsite, dangers with serious consequences directly impacting their current and future health evaluations of the soldiers exposed at Qarmat Ali.

Several Indiana National Guardsmen serving at Qarmat Ali have already manifested respiratory system tumors characteristically associated with hexavalent chromium exposure, two of the Tell City, Indiana Guardsmen have died as a result of sodium dichromate exposure, and many of the Tell City, Indiana Guardsmen continue to experience chemical sensitivities and rashes consistent with the impacts of hexavalent chromium poisoning. The United States Army has already confirmed that Jim Gentry's death from cancer resulted from his service exposure.

The Tell City, Indiana Guardsmen and their fellow soldiers accepted the hazards from enemy action while doing their part to assist the United States in restoring freedom to Iraq, but could not even imagine that Halliburton/KBR's managers would act in a manner that directly and continuously exposed them to serious health impacts for the rest of their lives. As stated by Lieutenant Colonel James Gentry, commanding officer of the Tell City, Indiana Guardsmen at Qarmat Ali, before his untimely death:

I understand and accept there's danger with my line of service, in my line of service. What's very difficult for me to accept is if I'm working for KBR and they have knowledge of hazardous chemicals on the ground that can cause cancer and not share that knowledge, then that is putting my men at risk that is not necessary. I'm very upset over this . . . I feel like they should be ashamed that they did that.

The RAF Ground Regiment Gunners and the other members of the British Forces at Qarmat Ali were likewise wholly unprotected against the hazards of sodium dichromate known to Halliburton/KBR's managers for months and months. In fact, despite the demonstrated knowledge of elevated chromium levels in the admittedly inadequate blood testing of Halliburton/KBR's civilian employees, Halliburton/KBR's managers apparently deliberately told British Forces exactly the opposite.

Actually this makes a weird kind of perverse, corporate sense. If a company is willing to endanger the troops of its own country why would anyone expect it to care about the troops of another country?

What happened to Ed Blacke, the American civilian medic at Qarmat Ali, when he tried to take action to protect the workers and soldiers in late July 2003, points to the Halliburton/KBR handling of the site contamination:

As an EMT concerned that there was a health problem, I began to query all English-speaking personnel working at the facility, which included KBR, Halliburton, Iraqi Oil Company, U. S. Army National Guard and British soldiers, and all were suffering identical symptoms. The symptoms for all at the facility developed into continuous bloody noses, spitting up of blood, coughing, irritation of the nose, eyes, throat and lungs, and shortness of breath. In order to determine what might be the cause of these medical problems, I undertook a more in depth assessment of the facility with my Iraqi interpreter taking down the chemical names on the burst bags I initially noted as well as from the tanks in the Injection building. The chemical was Sodium Dichromate, which contains hexavalent chromium. I asked my Iraqi interpreter if he was aware of what the material in the bags was used for and was advised that it was injected into the water supply system for the oil fields as an anti-corrosive. He was reluctant to say more and when pressed he said he knew it was poisonous and that he was aware of many workers from the plant who were made ill by it. He said that it being a poisonous chemical was probably the reason members of the Baath party had opened the storage bags and spread their contents all over the plant as part of their sabotage efforts in the facility. That evening, on my return to my quarters, I researched sodium dichromate on the internet, finding and downloading a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the chemical (attached). The MSDS states that sodium dichromate is a hazardous material and a carcinogen, exposure to which is to be avoided. At this time, a colleague I knew from Chad provided me with an internal memo written by a KBR Industrial Hygienist that substantiated my personal findings. I was totally taken aback to find that KBR knew as early as May, from a UN report and from their Industrial Hygienist, that they were putting not only KBR workers but our security details from the U. S. and British in harms way, without the required training or personal protective equipment.

I reported my findings about the imminent danger sodium dichromate was posing to the workers at Qarmat Ali to the HSE and Project Managerin Kuwait and insisted that they take immediate action. A few days later, two representatives of the health, safety and environmental section of KBR came to Qarmat Ali to assess the situation and talk to the workers. Those individuals were Safety Manager Tommy Mornay and Medical Supervisor Ray Garcia. They held a meeting with the workers in which they told the workers that the sodium dichromate was a mild irritant at worst, that the plant had been thoroughly checked out and was safe, and that they were to get back to work. I was at the meeting and was shocked that fellow safety and medical professionals were telling such outrageous
and blatant lies to the workers. I pointed out in the meeting that the NIOSH/CDC documents that I had on sodium dichromate directly contradicted their statements to the workers. At this point, Mr. Garcia, who was one of my superiors, directed me to be quiet and to leave. He then escorted me out of the meeting. Outside of the meeting, he advised me that I was being insubordinate, disruptive, and that my input was not appreciated. I was determined to pursue the complaint with higher-ups in KBR's HSE department in Kuwait, and upon attempting to do so, it was made clear to me that my presence in Iraq and Kuwait was no longer appreciated and that I would be better off going home. As a response to my complaints, the Medical Supervisor, Ray Garcia, under direction of the KBR Project Manager, directed me to accompany him to a clinic for blood workup. I was taken to a substandard medical clinic where I refused to submit to the tests due to the unsanitary conditions and unprofessional nature of the staff.


In my mind, it was criminally negligent of the KBR HSE and Project management to make a decision to continue to expose personnel to sodium dichromate poisoning at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant when they knew of the exposure and knew of the absence of any personal protective gear whatsoever. I understand that KBR and Halliburton take the position that the air was tested at the plant and showed low levels of chromium, however, those tests were apparently done when the air was still, not during one of the frequent dust storms in which all of the materials on the ground became airborne. Furthermore, the levels of chromium from the ground samples show that the plant was a highly dangerous and unsafe and contaminated facility, and these facts were objective facts known by KBR management, in the face of which they made the conscious decision to continue to expose the American workers, the Iraqi workers, the American military personnel, and the British military personnel at the plant to these horrifically unsafe conditions. It is outrageous that American tax dollars are the source of the funding of the Iraqi operation of Halliburton and KBR when those companies have demonstrated such total and complete disregard for the health and safety of the workers for whom they are responsible.

It would be interesting to hear from the various PMC trade associations and see whether they think KBR is living up to the various codes of conduct they are so proud of.