Soldiers sue Iraq contractor over toxic, cancer-causing dust
Sixteen soldiers are suing former Halliburton unit KBR, charging that its employees knowingly exposed them to a carcinogenic chemical in the course of their duties.
McManaway v. KBR, filed Wednesday at the U.S. District Court (Southern District of Indiana, Evansville), seeks to recover medical costs, along with monetary damages and monitoring for health problems including cancer, for sixteen Indiana National Guardsmen based in Tell City who were posted at a water treatment plant that KBR was commissioned to repair shortly after the American invasion, from April to September 2003. The Guardsmen charge that KBR was aware of dangerous levels of sodium dichromate on the premises, used to remove corrosion from pipes. Part of its chemical makeup is hexavalent chromium, which is known to cause lung cancer and birth defects. Sergeant First Class David Moore of Dubois, Indiana, was among those said to be affected: he died this year of chronic interstitial lung disease. His death was ruled service-related.
"It's not right," said Mark McManaway, 55, the main plaintiff in the suit. He has suffered rashes and nosebleeds he blames on the exposure. Their attorney, Mike Doyle, is also representing ten KBR workers in arbitration (Langford v. Halliburton, American Arbitration Association, 70-480-00649-05) who echo the charge, saying that their employer chose to cover up the exposure after neglecting to issue them the proper protective gear. Ed Blacke, who worked as a medic at Qarmat Ali, testified to a Senate panel in June that he was fired when he discovered the toxic dust and tried to warn others. "A day's exposure could write you a death warrant," he added. "Just one day's exposure." He said that the chemical contamination was an act of sabotage by the Iraqi Baath party.
"The Tell City Guardsmen were repeatedly told that there was no danger on site, even after KBR managers knew that blood testing of American civilians exposed onsite confirmed elevated chromium levels," Doyle said in the complaint.
"We deny the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition," KBR spokesperson Heather Browne said in an e-mail statement. "KBR appropriately notified the Army Corps of Engineers upon discovery of the existence of the substance on the site and the Corps of Engineers concluded that KBR's efforts to remediate the situation were effective. Further the company in no way condones any action that would compromise the safety of those we serve or employ."
The Guardsmen's complaint includes a copy of an internal KBR memo, dated June 2003, in which managers discussed sodium dichromate at the plant, and a statement from the Army confirming that there was "high potential for direct exposure" to the chemical during the time the Guardsmen were stationed at the plant.