Blood Money

More than 200 soldiers are suing KBR for knowingly exposing them to toxic chemicals in Iraq, whose effects started with nose bleeds and could end with cancer. KBR says that didn't happen. But even if it did, the company isn't responsible. Taxpayers are.

By late July 2003, Gentry would later say in a deposition, contractors murmured about how the yellow and orange sand was really contaminated with a cancer-causing agent, and Gentry's men got worried. Gentry went to his immediate commander, and then in August he wrote the general of the 220th MP Brigade. The general, as far as Gentry knew, forwarded the letter up the chain. He hated that his men came to him, and he could tell them nothing.

Russ Powell, a medic with the West Virginia National Guard, had the same frustrations. He could do a quick patch-up, but he wasn't a doctor. Could it just be the flu?

"They kind of look up to you," Powell told the Press, "...and it was just frustrating for me, 'cause one person would get it, then the other person would have it, then all of them have it — including myself. And I'm sitting here [thinking], 'What the hell's wrong with us?'"

Oregon National Guardsman Larry Roberta says he went to Iraq fit, and came back barely able to breathe.
Courtesy of Larry Roberta
Oregon National Guardsman Larry Roberta says he went to Iraq fit, and came back barely able to breathe.
Soldiers say that sodium dichromate was spread throughout Qarmat Ali.
Courtesy of Andy Tosh
Soldiers say that sodium dichromate was spread throughout Qarmat Ali.

Ed Blacke, KBR's health, safety and environment coordinator, had an idea what was wrong, and he was already pissing off his superiors when he told them he had discovered sodium dichromate on site. From his very first visit, he'd been worried about the stained soil and sand. He first got to Qarmat Ali July 10, and when he asked his colleagues who'd already been there about the stuff, he was told it was a non-issue. But the more time he spent at Qarmat Ali, the more complaints he heard from contractors and soldiers alike of bloody noses, spitting up of blood, rashes, sinus and eye irritation. He decided to take his interpreter along on an in-depth assessment, and, he'd later testify, he was told by some of KBR's subcontractors that sodium dichromate had been used at the plant for years.

When Blacke raised this issue with his supervisors, he later testified, he was told to stop agitating the men. He was told to shut the hell up. When he didn't, he was put on a plane back to Houston.

Even prior to Blacke's pernicious muckraking, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer safety officer, Michael Remington, had also talked sodium dichromate with KBR.

According to Remington's later deposition, a KBR health, safety and environment manager named Chuck Adams invited him to lunch back at the Crowne Plaza and asked that Remington not put too much information down in writing. Adams was happy to talk about any issues, but there just wasn't a need to document every little thing.

Sodium dichromate may have been a sensitive issue to KBR's safety officers because, by mid-July when the men really cranked up the complaints, the safety officers had known about its presence on site for more than a month.

A June 1 KBR "Project Trip Report" noted the use of sodium dichromate; three weeks later, safety officer Jake Duhon would note in a "Daily HSE Log" that he had had a discussion with employees of Iraq's South Oil Company, who confirmed that sodium dichromate was on site.

"Should be able to use this information for PPE [personal protective equipment] requirements..." Duhon wrote.

Three days after this epiphany about protective gear, according to a KBR e-mail, an environmental engineer explained that another engineer "has asked Houston about using chromate in water treatment. As we are not following any EPA regulation in Iraq facility and this water is used only for water injection, we should not change the chemicals used now in the facilities."

The soldiers never got protective equipment, but in late August, they noticed something new: All of a sudden, KBR employees were wearing Tyvek suits with respirators.

It threw the soldiers for a loop. Why, after months of working at Qarmat Ali, did the contractors suddenly need PPE?

Gentry explained in an affidavit five years later that he asked someone to take a photograph of him, in battle rattle, standing on the orange sand between two contractors in their Tyveks. The contractors had been reluctant.

"Nobody is going to know who you are with your respirator on," he assured them.

On September 8, operations at Qarmat Ali were suspended.

Memorandum for Record: Department of Veterans Affairs, Indianapolis VA Regional Office, January 8, 2010:

James C. Gentry, VA File Number 315 66 6760.

Service connection for the cause of death is granted.

The cause of death is recorded as: lung cancer. The veteran was service connected for combined obstructive and restrictive ventilatory defect to include right maxillary sinus adenocarcinoma with metastic lung cancer at a 100 percent evaluation.

Service connection for the cause of the veteran's death is granted since evidence shows that it was related to military service.

Indiana Joint Forces Headquarters, National Guard, Memorandum for HQ:

In line of duty for exposure to sodium dichromate between June-September 2003.

By authority of the Secretary of the Army.

To the layman, these findings from the Indiana National Guard and the Department of Veterans Affairs might seem like clear-cut statements that Lt. Col. Gentry's lung cancer was caused by his exposure to sodium dichromate.

Harrison, the KBR attorney, of course disagrees. And going straight to the source wasn't much help: A spokesman for the Indiana National Guard told the Press that its "line of duty" memorandum is not an official statement that the Guard believes Gentry's death was related to the exposure.

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Marine Corp Veteren here, Korean War. Dealing with the same sort of thing. They've been doing this for a long time. But don't give up the fight. Contact me if I can be of any help. Semper Fi


OGM I use that stuff regularly to treat sour gas wells back in the early 80s


As horrible and tragic as this is, it's nothing that hasn't happened in the past or won't happen in future wars. Agent orange in Nam comes to mind. No telling what it was in Korea and WWII, but back then people had different mind sets than what they have now.

KBR Public Relations
KBR Public Relations


We respectfully disagree with the notion that KBR is responsible for exposing soldiers to toxic levels of Sodium Dichromate at a water treatment plant, Qarmat Ali, in Iraq. KBR operates a legal business and complies with state and federal laws. Those who call on KBR to pay soldiers for their failing health, which could be related to anything, ignore the voluminous other hazards that exist in Iraq. Even a cursory look at the Iraq Wikipedia page would show such hazards. A search for recent studies would show that military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are 8 times more likely to suffer respiratory problems and amply demonstrates that KBR took preventative measures to protect its workers and the soldiers.

Suing KBR, or its affiliates, would have zero impact on the toxicity that exists in Iraq or Afghanistan. The toxicity could come from anywhere, and KBR has made every attempt to work with the military in an attempt to keep soldiers and KBR employees safe.

KBR signed a contract with the US military that stated that prior to KBR arriving at Qarmat Ali the military would ensure that the plant was safe to operate on. KBR has strict safety guide lines that are well monitored and enforced. As does the U.S. military and it would be inconceivable to think that they did not do what was required of them to clear the work site prior to KBR’s arrival. And while KBR might have made millions off of this contract they took every precaution necessary to create a safe work environment for everyone. KBR posted signs in English and Arabic that stated that sodium dichromate was toxic and informed the government as soon as toxic levels of the chemical were reported.

The U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and preventative Medicine issued a Survey and Risk Assessment Field Report that found that KBR’s efforts to work with the government not only helped minimize exposure to the chemical but also saved lives. KBR has always maintained strong cooperative relationships with federal agencies.

Because of KBR's reports to the federal government efforts to create safer work environments resulted in lives saved. Virtually all preventative measures and precautions were based, at least in part, on records and test that KBR provided to the U.S. military.

KBR has been outspoken in its support for efforts to stop the spread of sodium dichromate in Iraq. The Iraqi government was the real perpetrators of this crime. It was under the regime of Saddam Hussein that sodium dichromate was dumped by the tons in Iraq. Thanks to KBR and their commitment to safety we were able to identify a problem and aid the government in exposing what could have been a dangerous situation for all the young soldiers in Iraq.

We continue to invest millions of dollars in human, technological, and other resources to detect and report toxicity and to help the U.S. Government pinpoint and clean up contaminated sites. KBR can only do so much, for they are just one small company in a sea of companies that is faced with toxic chemicals that are raping young soldiers.

But no amount of vigilance on our part - or cooperation with the military - is perfect. This is something every responsible parent whose child confronts the temptations of the street and drugs understands. With tens of thousands of work sites under review in multiple nations, there is going to be a small percentage that is impossible to detect and eliminate. But improving technologies for monitoring and moderating toxic chemicals, not shutting down all work sites, is the effective solution.

Much more effective and viable solutions were called for last year in a groundbreaking report by someone we paid. Titled "Toxic Trafficking Onsite: The Role of Corporations and Toxic Chemicals," the study concluded that the lack of new technology, such as Hazmat suites and facemasks, were not the root cause of dead soldiers. The report recommended leveraging these technologies to interdict the activities of deadly chemicals. That's exactly what KBR does.

We urge you to contact the United States Military for more information.

The bottom line for us is that we address the problem of toxicity with strategies that work to interdict dangerous working conditions, not useless lawsuits that, while they might make good news copy and political rhetoric, don't rescue anyone.False allegations will not create public safety nor rid the world of toxicity.

Heather Brown Director, Media Relations KBR, Inc


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"Cause when it comes to peoples safety, money wins out every time"- Gil Scott-Heron.

An unbelivable article Craig, very well written and researched. Disgusted to say the least.


What??? Sorry not saying that this guy is lying...but having been to Iraq myself and seeing first hand how KBR operates the only thing I think they are guilty of is questionable food and charging the govt like the cold cuts were covered with gold. And sorry but thats business, Id charge anybody 25.00 for a turkey sandwich that they had to assemble and season themselves if I could. And yes maybe my fellow soldiers did die for oil, but all wars are for land, resources or money....otherwise the government wouldn't give a damn like all the rest of the governments thru the sand of time, welcome to reality.

Ms Sparky
Ms Sparky

This is hands down the best article written so far about Qarmat Ali and the criminal acts committed by KBR management. KUDO's! The DoD has a responsibility to protect our soldiers. You allowed our soldiers to be injured and killed for corporate greed and OIL! I want to see some personal indictments on this. Where in the hell is the DOJ. Well done Craig Malisow and the Houston Press!

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Hi Guest -- I've read your comment a few dozen times now, and I'm still not sure what your point is, other than you think that maybe KBR, or many contractors, overcharged the government and that soldiers die in war. And as for "reality" -- if the reality of a particular situation is that it is unjust, does that mean it shouldn't be acknowledged and corrected? Or do you just subscribe to apathy?

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