Nov 03, 2012
On Friday, a federal jury found notorious defense contractor KBR (Kellogg Brown and Root) negligent of exposing soldiers to the carcinogen hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water facility in Iraq in 2003.
The lawsuit brought by a dozen Oregon Army National Guard soldiers against the former Halliburton corporation charged that the company acted with "conscious indifference to the health, safety and welfare" of the soldiers.
The Army Corps of Engineers hired KBR Inc. to run a massive program called Restore Iraqi Oil. The program involved dozens of sites throughout Iraq -- sites that neither the Army nor KBR had visited before the invasion. The project was intended to quickly restore the flow of Iraq's oil, partly to fund the war. The Pentagon remembered the way Saddam Hussein had lit the fields on fire during the first Gulf War, and feared a repeat in 2003.
Qarmat Ali was a compound where water was pumped underground to drive oil to the surface elsewhere. For decades, Iraqis had treated the water with sodium dichromate, an anticorrosion agent that contains hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen. (Sodium dichromate is banned in the United States.)
Iraq's Southern Oil Co. took delivery of sodium dichromate, an orange-yellow crystalline powder, in bags that were stored on site. Soldiers and others testified that the material was loose and drifting around the site, and had contaminated areas even outside the chemical injection building where it was added to the water.
How contaminated was it? Accounts differ. Even one of the plaintiffs in this case said he didn't notice any soil discoloration. One of the British soldiers whose testimony was prerecorded said it was everywhere. Another Oregon soldier said it settled heavily on the clothing of the soldiers, who unwittingly carried it back to their camps over the border in Kuwait.
The lawsuit "was about showing that they cannot get away with treating soldiers like that," said Rocky Bixby, the soldier whose name appeared on the suit, according the Army Times. "It should show them what they did was wrong, prove what they did was wrong and punish them for what they did."
"We're not disposable," said Aaron St. Clair, another soldier-plaintiff. "People are not going to make money from our blood."
CNNreports that the "total judgment was more than $85 million. Each soldier was awarded $850,000 in noneconomic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages."
The lead attorney for KBR has said the company will appeal.
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