Sustained Outrage

Toxic time bomb

That’s how’s Adam Lichtenheld describes sodium dichromate, a type of hexavalent chromium, a highly carcinogenic chemical made famous by Erin Brockovich.

As the Gazette has reported, up to 150 members of West Virginia’s National Guard may have been exposed to sodium dichromate in Iraq in 2003. The soldiers, as well as National Guard units from Indiana and Oregon, helped guard the Qarmat Ali water plant as KBR contractors repaired the facility.

You can read the Gazette’s coverage here, here and here.

Now, in No Contractor Left Behind Part I: KBR, the Pentagon, and the Soldiers Who Paid, the non-profit news organization has published the results of their own investigation into the aftermath of Qarmet Ali. Here’s how they see it:

Between April and September of 2003, the Indiana Guardsmen and their comrades from West Virginia and Oregon were subjected to a deadly health threat that would not be tolerated in any workplace in America.

Six years later, these once-vigorous soldiers now find themselves feeble and fraught with worry. Two have died from cancer. Another is in end-of-life hospice care. Dozens more suffer from frequent respiratory problems and chronic illnesses.

But only in the past year have most of these soldiers learned of their exposure to sodium dichromate — a poisonous chemical that has been shown to cause long-term health problems, including cancer. Their plight offers a scathing indictment of the United States Army and its largest private contractor, KBR Inc.

I’ll update with links to additional parts of’s series as they are published.

Update #1: Here’s a link to No Contractor Left Behind Part II: KBR’s Negligence.

As I’m typing, the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is holding a hearing on service-connected exposure (which will include testimony about Qarmat Ali).

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.

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