APNewsBreak: Complaint says KBR knew of Iraq toxin

Published April 4, 2012 4:36PM (EDT)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A military contractor knew an Iraqi water treatment plant's lax environmental standards let a toxic chemical contaminate the area, but never disclosed it to Oregon National Guard soldiers who were sickened, the soldiers said in a complaint filed Wednesday.

The complaint in U.S. District Court in Oregon alleges Kellogg, Brown and Root knew about the presence of sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant months before the date they originally gave in testimony and depositions.

A message left Wednesday for KBR was not immediately returned.

Sodium dichromate is an anticorrosive compound that can cause skin and breathing problems and cancer.

The soldiers, suffering from myriad respiratory problems, migraines and lung issues, sued KBR in June 2009.

The company acknowledged the presence of sodium dichromate in July 2003; a former employee later revealed an email to his managers that showed the company knew of the chemical in June 2003.

But the report uncovered by the soldiers' attorneys points to KBR knowing about the presence of sodium dichromate in January 2003.

The soldiers say they only learned of the alleged misrepresentation in late February, after a Department of Defense inspector general investigation directed them to a 2002 KBR assessment of the plant.

Attorneys for the soldiers called the company's earlier explanation "deliberate, calculated concealment," according to the complaint. Guard soldiers from Oregon, Indiana and West Virginia who provided security at the Qarmat Ali water plant are involved in suits against KBR.

The U.S. Defense Department's inspector general issued a report in late September that faults KBR for failing to comply with safety and health standards at the plant and not acting as quickly as it could have to protect soldiers and civilians from exposure. Nearly 1,000 Army soldiers and civilian employees being exposed to sodium dichromate over five months.

The motion issued Wednesday asks U.S. District Judge Paul Papak to either award the plaintiffs a yet-to-be-determined amount of money or, failing that, force KBR to identify everyone who knew of the assessment, allow lawyers to depose them and — if the case goes to trial — inform a jury of KBR's failure to produce the assessment.

The soldiers' attorneys were able to take a deposition from John Weatherly, the lead contractor liaison with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the KBR 2002 assessment in hand.

"How clear is it they knew, at the latest, January 2003?" one of the plaintiffs' attorneys asked Weatherly.

"From the dates on the documents," he said, "it should be obvious."

By Salon Staff

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