Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

Taxpayers may not be on the hook for KBR’s legal costs in sodium dichromate suits

Oregon Live  June 26, 2012

It’s not clear who’s going to pay legal costs for defense contractor KBR Inc., which is being sued by National Guard soldiers who accuse the company of knowingly exposing them to a carcinogen.

While the company persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers to write an indemnification clause into its 2003 contract to restore the flow of Iraq’s oil, the Corps has twice refused KBR’s request to cover its costs in the two lawsuits proceeding against it in Oregon and Texas.

Lawyers for KBR say they believe the company is entitled to have its expenses covered by taxpayers but is proceeding through the litigation in the meantime at its own risk and expense, said Geoffrey Harrison of the Houston firm of Susman, Godfrey. The company expects to challenge the Corps’ denial “maybe at the end of the case,” he said.

June 27, 2012 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties, Halliburton, Iraq, KBR, Lawsuits, Safety and Security Issues, Toxic, USACE | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oregon case against KBR is streamlined

Mike Francis Oregon Live  April 10, 2012

The suit brought by several dozen Oregon National Guard soldiers against military contractor KBR Inc. has been downsized by the federal judge hearing the case.

In an effort to reduce the number of plaintiffs to a manageable number, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak has ordered trial to proceed in October with 12 plaintiffs — four chosen by lawyers for each side, and four selected by the court.

Separately, one plaintiff, Michael O’Rielly, has withdrawn from the case at his own request.

That leaves 21 soldiers whose case against KBR will be set aside while the trial of the first dozen proceeds in Portland this fall.

And on a parallel track, lawyers for KBR and the soldiers agreed Tuesday to take their arguments before a mediator in Harris County, Texas, where KBR is based. The mediation, which is scheduled for August, will cover the cases brought the Oregon soldiers and by soldiers from the Indiana National Guard. Mediation may lead to a settlement, but if it doesn’t, the trial of the first 12 Oregon soldiers will proceed.

The first 12 soldiers scheduled to take their case against KBR are: Jason Arnold, Rocky Bixby, Ronald Bjerklund, Colt Campredon, Charles Ellis, Byron Greer, Matthew Hadley, Brian Hedin, Vito Pacheco, Larry Roberta, Charles Seamon and Aaron St. Clair.

The soldiers are suing KBR because they believe the contractor knowingly exposed them to a carcinogenic compound when they were assigned to provide security at a water treatment plant in southern Iraq. KBR was hired to help restore Iraq’s oil production after the invasion, and the Oregon soldiers were among those who guarded them as they worked.

A compound called sodium dichromate, used as an anticorrosive agent, was present at the site, and some of the soldiers have developed symptoms consistent with the effects of sodium dichromate exposure. At least two members of the Indiana National Guard who guarded the Qarmat Ali plant have died — one from lung cancer and another for what was called “chronic interstitial lung disease.”

KBR denies that it knowingly exposed the soldiers to a dangerous chemical compound.

Please see the original and read more here

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Civilian Contractors, Halliburton, Iraq, KBR, Toxic | , , , , | Leave a comment

Defense Department Inspector General says KBR and the military failed to respond quickly to health risks posed to Oregon soldiers

The OregonianSeptember 28, 2011

The Defense Department and contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root failed to act as quickly as they should have to protect those exposed to a carcinogenic chemical at an Iraqi water treatment plant in 2003, according to a report Wednesday by the Defense Department’s Inspector General.

The report was hailed as a victory for Oregon soldiers by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who was one of a group of senators who sought the IG’s evaluation, and by Oregon National Guard troops who are among those suing KBR. They accuse the contractor of knowingly exposing them to sodium dichromate, an anticorrosive compound that can cause skin and breathing problems and cancer.

Because KBR “did not fully comply with occupational safety and health standards required” under its contract with the Army, the Inspector General found, “a greater number of Service members and DoD civilian employees were exposed to sodium dichromate, and for longer periods, increasing the potential for chronic health effects.”

The report found that “nearly 1,000 Army soldiers and civilian employees were exposed to the compound in the five months it took from the initial site visit until the military command required personal protective equipment.”

“To me, the bottom line is this report confirms what Oregon soldiers and I have been saying for years,” said Wyden. “KBR and the military command failed to protect soldiers from a known threat.”

Houston-based KBR couldn’t be reached for comment before deadline. KBR has previously denied knowingly exposing soldiers or contractors to health risks.

Rocky Bixby of Tualatin, the former Oregon National Guard soldier who is listed as the first plaintiff in the suit against KBR, said Wednesday afternoon that he hadn’t yet seen the report, but is “obviously happy.”

“I’m just happy that the government is making a stand on this and protecting its troops,” said Bixby, who says he continues to suffer breathing difficulties that started after he helped secure the plant where KBR was working to restore water service.

The 56-page report also faults the military’s handling of the work at Qarmat Ali, from the vague wording of its initial contract to its failure to monitor the contractor’s compliance with its terms

Please read more here

September 28, 2011 Posted by | AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties, Department of Defense, Halliburton, KBR, Safety and Security Issues, Toxic | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Judge dismisses W.Va. soldiers’ case against KBR

Associated Press

WHEELING, W.Va. — A federal judge in West Virginia has dismissed two lawsuits filed by National Guardsmen who believe they were exposed to toxic chemicals in Iraq, and those soldiers now plan to join similar litigation in Texas.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp recently ruled he has no jurisdiction over the case, which involves Texas-based military contractor Kellogg Brown & Root Services Inc. and KBR Technical Services.

Wheeling attorney Bill Wilmoth, who represented KBR, said that while his client does recruiting and business in other states, the judge appropriately ruled KBR had not done enough in West Virginia to merit his jurisdiction.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Kessler said Tuesday that his clients aren’t giving up. They will join a similar case in Texas that already includes more than 100 guardsmen from Indiana.

“We are not going to drop it or forget about it because the boys were injured, were exposed and are having long-term and lasting repercussions from that,” said Kessler, who is also a state senator.

While his clients are disappointed they could not proceed in West Virginia, near their doctors, joining forces with fellow soldiers is a positive, Kessler said.

A similar toxic-exposure case against KBR has been filed by guardsmen in Oregon.

The soldiers say they were exposed to cancer-causing sodium dichromate while providing security for KBR workers at a water plant in Iraq in 2003. They say they’ve suffered long-term health problems, including respiratory struggles and nose bleeds.

KBR had been hired to restart the treatment plant, which had been looted and stripped bare. The Iraqis used hexavalent chromium, a component of sodium dichromate, to prevent pipe corrosion at the plant. That’s the same chemical linked to poisonings in California in a case made famous in the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

Some experts say hexavalent chromium can cause severe liver and kidney damage and studies have linked it to leukemia as well as bone, stomach and other cancers.

“It was a very interesting case, lots of interesting science and the war in Iraq — the kind of thing that normal lawyers in West Virginia don’t get a chance to see very often,” Wilmoth said, “and there is a real dispute among the scientists about whether or not this exposure could have resulted in symptoms this soon after the exposure.”

Legislation is pending in the U.S. Senate to help provide a registry that would identify and monitor soldiers exposed to hexavalent chromium in Iraq.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | KBR, Toxic | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toxic Water in Iraq

NBC News Investigation: Toxic water in Iraq

By Rich Gardella and Lisa Myers

Hundreds of National Guardsmen potentially exposed to toxic chemical at Iraq water treatment plant in 2003

www.mssparky.com for the ongoing story and investigation

Throughout 2003, after the combat phase of the Iraq War had ended, the U.S. military and defense contractors raced to try and fix Iraq’s infrastructure.
Working in a war zone obviously presents unexpected challenges and dangers far beyond the usual ones at industrial worksites.  But this is the story of why some Army National Guardsmen are suing defense contractor KBR because of alleged exposures to a toxic chemical at one such industrial worksite in Iraq.
Video: Soldiers sue over alleged toxic exposure
Web only video: Air had a ‘strange metallic taste,’ says soldier

When specialist Larry Roberta of the Oregon Army National Guard went to Iraq in 2003, he expected sandstorms, physical hardship, perhaps even combat.  What he didn’t expect was the orange dust he encountered, all over the place, at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant, near Basra in southern Iraq.

“You could taste stuff in the air,” Roberta recalled. “It had a really strange metallic taste.”

Roberta’s unit and other Army National Guard units were at the plant during the spring and summer of 2003, in the months after the U.S. invasion that March.  Their mission was to provide security for workers repairing the plant.  It supplied water to Iraqi oil fields, and was an important part of the U.S. mission to get Iraq’s oil flowing again. The workers were repairing the plant for defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR).

Roberta and other Guardsmen and former KBR employees told NBC News that the orange dust was throughout the plant and the grounds, and sometimes would permeate the air during when the desert winds blew.
“It blew up in my face and on my chicken patty and my mouth and stuff like that,” Roberta said.  “I didn’t really think a whole lot of it other than it tasted really bad and made me throw up and burned.”
Capt. Russell Kimberling of the Indiana Army National Guard told us he asked KBR officials what the dust was.
“What we got from them was,’It’s a mild irritant,'” Kimberling said.

But the dust actually was a highly toxic chemical called sodium dichromate,  which scientists have found can cause lung cancer in humans.
It had been used by Iraqi workers prior to the war to prevent corrosion in the pipes at the plant.  There were hundreds of bags at the chemical at the plant, some of them clearly labeled.
The mission’s official military name was Task Force RIO (“Restoration of Iraqi Oil”).  KBR got the contract.

Six years later, some of the Guardsmen assigned to provide security for Task Force RIO at the plant are dead, dying or suffering from serious health problems–including rashes, perforated septums and lung disease. One of the foremost experts in sodium dichromate, Dr. Herman  Gibb, says the Guardsmen’s symptoms are consistent with “significant exposure” to the chemical.

KBR argues that the company is not to blame. The company says it told the Army about the dangerous chemical as soon as it was identified at the plant.  That, the company says, was on July 25, 2003.

But, international KBR documents contradict that claim, and indicate that the company became aware of the chemical at the site two months earlier.
One internal KBR document notes that “an environmental technician identified the chemical in May.”  The document’s author was a KBR manager who oversaw health and safety for the Qarmat Ali project.
Another KBR document warns not only that the chemical is present at the plant but also that some areas are “potentially contaminated” with it.  The author of that memo, a KBR health and safety employee, suggests testing and cleanup.  That document is dated June 21, 2003.  That’s more than one month before KBR alerted the Army, and more than two months before the Guardsmen became aware of the danger.
Several Guardsmen recall that it wasn’t until late August that they learned of the hazard, and then only because they saw KBR workers wearing white chemical suits.

“They were in full protective chemical gear,” Russell Kimberling told us.   “You know, from head to toe.  I kind of looked at one of my men and just said, ‘this can’t be good, can it?'”

Although KBR did remediation work in mid-August, it wasn’t until several weeks after that, on September 8, 2003, that KBR shut down the Qarmat Ali plant and did a more extensive cleanup – “out of abundance of caution,” it explained in a statement to NBC News. The plant remained closed until mid-October.
In all, during 2003, more than 700 soldiers passed through the Qarmat Ali plant, mostly Guard units from Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina and West Virginia.  Some of these Guardsmen say they began experiencing physical symptoms – headaches, bloody noses, sinus and respiratory problems – soon after arriving at the plant in the summer of 2003.

Larry Roberta’s medical records confirm he reported breathing problems and chest pains during a visit to a medic that July.  The military evacuated Russ Kimberling from the site that summer so a severe sinus infection in his nasal cavity could heal.
Since then, other soliders who served at Qarmat Ali have experienced serious illnesses.  Some have died.  First Sgt. David moore of the Indiana Army National Guard died of lunch disease in 2008 at age 42.  The commander of Kimerling’s Indiana Army National Guard Unity, Lt. Col James Gentry, died of a rare lunch cancer of the day before Thanksgiving.  He had claimed to be a lifelong non-smoker.

Six years later, the commander of Kimberling’s Indiana Army National Guard Unit, Lt. Col James Gentry, is terminally ill with a rare lung cancer.  He says he’s a lifelong nonsmoker.
First Sgt. David Moore of the Indiana Army National Guard is dead of lung disease at age 42.
Roberta, a former police officer who climbed Mt. Sinai before he went to Iraq, now struggles to catch his breath when he walks. He has serious stomach and liver issues, migraines and acute respiratory problems, including reactive airway disorder.
“You almost feel like you’re drowning,” Roberta said, after gasping for breath during a coughing fit captured on video by an NBC cameraman.   “You want to breathe, but you just can’t.”
Roberta, Kimberling, Gentry and Moore’s family are part of a lawsuit by Army Guardsmen against KBR, charging that the company knowingly endangered lives by not informing them of the dangers.  The Guardsmen’s law firm, Doyle Raizner of Houston, Texas, has been gathering testimony and documents in the case.

KBR strongly denies wrongdoing.  The company acknowledges that sodium dichromate was present at the plant, and had contaminated parts of it.  But KBR claims it “acted appropriately and on a timely basis” as information about the chemical at the plant became known.  In statements to NBC NewsKBR also claims that it was the Army’s reponsibility to ensure the site was free of environmental hazards.
What’s more, KBR insists that there is no evidence proving that soldiers suffered illnesses or injuries because of exposure to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali plant.
Former KBR employees previously filed their own complaint against the company, making similar allegations.  An arbitrator denied the employees’ claims for damages, arguing that the company was not liable under the provisions of the Defense Base Act, a federal workers compensation law applying to persons working on U.S. military bases outside the U.S. Without discussion, the arbitrator states that “claimants did not present sufficient proof of an injury compensable under Texas law,” where KBR is based.
We consulted Dr. Herman Gibb, one of the foremost experts on sodium dochromate exposure.  Gibb, an epidemiologist, spent 29 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, much of that time at the National Center for Environmental Assessment. He is the lead author of a 2000 study of the relationship between lung cancer and sodium dichromate exposure. (That study collected data on the exposures of 2,101 workers at a Baltimore factory, who were exposed to sodium dichromate between 1950 and 1974.)
In an NBC NEWS interview, we asked Dr. Gibb about KBR’s statement.
Lisa Myers: KBR says there is simply no evidence that soldiers were harmed by exposure to this chemical.  Do you agree with that statement?
Dr. Herman Gibb: I don’t see how you can say there’s no evidence.  I mean…they experienced symptoms that are consistent with sodium dichromate exposure.  The exposure must have been fairly significant to be associated with these symptoms.

In claiming no proof of harm to soldiers, KBR specifically points to red blood cell blood tests conducted by the Army’s Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (CHPPM).  KBR told us the Army’s CHPPM had concluded that “no soldier encountered a significant inhalation exposure while guarding the facility.”
But NBC’s review of the Army’s report showed that what the Center actually reported was that the blood tests “appear to show that there was not a significant inhalation exposure,” and that the Army’s medical team “at the time felt that long-term health effects were very unlikely from the exposure as understood.”

And Dr. Gibb told NBC that the red blood cell tests were too insensitive, and conducted too long after exposure, to be conclusive.
“The test wouldn’t have been very reliable…taken so long after exposure ended,” he said.  “It would be like giving a breathalyzer test to somebody three days after they’d been driving erratically.”
KBR also claims that most air and soil sample tests indicate that “there was no danger from airborne contamination of the plant.”  Dr. Gibb noted that KBR had admitted that the Army’s and KBR’s air and soil and blood tests occurred after KBR had remediated the site.
Since our interview, Dr. Gibb has been hired by lawyers representing the Guardsmen to review material for their case.
KBR provided NBC News an executive summary of a report it claims counters Dr. Gibb’s testimony, prepared as part of KBR’s response to the previous claim by former KBR employees.

The trial for the Guardsmen’s case against KBR likely won’t begin until sometime next year.
Meanwhile, Roberta struggles just to get through each day.

“If KBR did know about this, before we were there,” said Roberta, “it should

have been rectified.”
“They said it was a mild irritant,” Kimberling recalled.  “That’s what I told my soldiers.  And suck it up and drive on with the mission.  Don’t whine about it.  You know, we’re here, let’s do our job and let’s go home.  That’s what we did.”
What upsets some of the Guardsmen most of all is that, after serving their country faithfully, they believe the Army and KBR let them down by not fully acknowledging or investigating their exposure to the toxic chemical or their serious health problems.  Some suffered for years and only recently have a possible explanation why.

In the last few months, the U.S. Government finally has begun to acknowledge their predicament.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General has launched an investigation. That was the result of a formal request from seven Democratic senators, including Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, which has been investigating this matter for more than a year.  (The DPC held two hearings on the topic, one in 2008 and one this year.)
In September and October, following a hearing by the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee, the Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, and the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, Gen. Eric Shinseki, sent letters to Sen. Dorgan describing new efforts to contact and examine the 700+ soldiers who potentially were exposed to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali plant.
All these efforts now should help exposed soldiers like Larry Roberta receive medical care, and perhaps eventually yield more substantive answers about how many were exposed to the toxic chemical, how many have health problems because of it, and why this happened at all.

December 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment