Sustained Outrage

Poisoning the troops (and the workers)?

The Associated Press had a story yesterday (also see page 1A of today’s print edition Gazette) about the West Virginia National Guard trying to find some troops who may have been exposed to the toxic chemical hexavalent chromium while they were serving our country in Iraq.

The story noted that a lawsuit had been filed in December by 16 Indiana National Guard soldiers against defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root Inc., alleging the troops.
A lawsuit filed in December by 16 Indiana National Guard soldiers against defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root Inc. claims the troops now have respiratory system tumors associated with exposure at an Iraqi water treatment plant (where apparently the chemical had been used to remove pipe corrosion).

Readers who are interested in more information about this might want to check out (read, listen or watch) this edition of the show Democracy Now! The show covers the issue in much more detail and includes a link to the lawsuit against KBR. Michael Doyle, lead lawyer for the guardsman, explained:

KBR actually very clearly—and we know this from some testimony that KBR managers have already given in a kind of a suit by the civilians, that they absolutely knew that there was sodium dichromate out there at the facility. It’s absolutely also clear that that’s one of the most dangerous carcinogens. This stuff—and folks may have heard about hexavalent chromium in the Erin Brockovich, where they had relatively small amounts, very serious consequences. There were bags of this stuff. And at least some of the testing showed 1.9 percent of the soil was actually sodium dichromate around this site. And despite being paid well to do a site assessment; to do this project; to make sure that the folks out there, the civilians and the soldiers, were protected; they basically just kept ignoring it.

By the time they finally admitted there was a problem, these Guardsmen, as well as the other folks out there, had had months and months, you know, at different times of exposure to something that’s going to cause them really serious health problems. Hopefully, not all of them are going to have the same effects, but it’s something that not only do you have a very elevated risk for cancer, which is very well-documented in the medical literature, but the reality is that you also get a sensitivity to chromium, which is in leather products—it’s basically all around us. And so, you’re going to have these recurrent hyperallergenic kind of problems indefinitely.

But I think what really has most concerned the soldiers who were out there is they didn’t know about this. They weren’t told. They were actually told the opposite about how serious this was. It wasn’t until after these hearings in June of this year the Indiana National Guard was told for the first time about how deadly serious this was. These men were actually given briefings by the Guard in September of this year, and they’ve learned for the first time how serious this was and how some of the health problems these guys to some degree are still having, what it might really face for them in the future. And that’s a pretty serious problem for these soldiers going forward, knowing that they’re carrying this inside their body now.

There’s a lot more about the National Guard situation here, including a congressional hearing transcript and testimony from a former KBR employee who said:

“…that both civilian employees and the National Guard showed symptoms consistent with exposure to hexavalent chromium including continuous bloody noses, spitting up of blood, coughing, irritation of the nose, eyes, throat and lungs, and shortness of breath. However, when he brought this to the attention of his KBR managers, they informed him that he was being “insubordinate, disruptive and that his input was not appreciated.

In a related bit of news, the controversy continues over a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruled governing workplace exposures to hexavalent chromium.

The Pump Handle blog reports on a recent federal court decision to uphold the OHSA standard. The Pump Handle has reported routinely on this issue here and here, as has the Environmental Working Group.

And The Washington Post reported on a scientific study that found “Scientists working for the chromium industry withheld data about the metal’s health risks while the industry campaigned to block strict new limits on the cancer-causing chemical.”

Said the Post:

Documents in the report, published in the peer-reviewed online journal Environmental Health, show that the industry conducted a pivotal study that found a fivefold increase in lung cancer deaths from moderate exposures to chromium but never published the results or gave them to OSHA. Company-sponsored scientists later reworked the data in a way that made the risk disappear