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.

Furthermore, both the Indianapolis regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs, where Gentry was treated for cancer, and the department's national office, which relied on the regional office's medical evaluations, would neither confirm nor deny that sodium dichromate caused Gentry's cancer. A spokesman for the national office explained that, in many cases, once the determination is made that an injury or disability occurred during active duty (or within a year after retirement), it is considered "service-connected." There is not necessarily an investigation into the specific cause.

Because the documents do not officially state that Gentry died as a result of sodium dichromate exposure, KBR's President of Infrastructure was able to exclude Gentry's death from a 2010 op-ed piece he wrote for the Portland Oregonian denying that KBR acted improperly in the handling of Qarmat Ali.

"As the old saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts," Williams wrote. "...Testing by the Army center showed that no troops were harmed and that they were unlikely to develop future injury from any limited exposure they received while in Iraq."

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.

Williams was referring to the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine, which concluded in May 2010 "that long-term health effects related to cancer...were very unlikely from the exposure as understood."

It was probably for another reason, then, that Gentry was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2007, which then spread from his lung to behind his eye and on up to his brain, while at the same time eating away at his bones to the point that, by February 2008, 60 percent of the bones in his hip and femur were like rotted wood. Surgeons implanted a rod, something his widow Luann says was "extremely painful for a man of his stature and size and pride."

By that time, the couple pretty much lived at the VA, driving two hours from their country home near Williams to Indianapolis. They fell in love with the home when they passed it on one of their motorcycle rides — one of the last Gentry would be able to take — in 2007. It was too expensive at the time, but, just their luck, the price soon dropped, and in November 2007 they bought it.

In a deposition Gentry gave on October 5, 2009, he said, "This is our peaceful little place in the world where we're going to spend the rest of our lives in peace."

Fifty days later, he died.

A death like Gentry's may have been what the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General warned about in a September 2011 report blasting both Army officials and KBR managers for "not effectively" addressing "environmental hazards" prior to working at Qarmat Ali.

Just who exactly was supposed to address what hazards has been a point of conflict between the Army Corps and KBR, with much of the contention hinging on the meaning of the word "benign" as it appears in the multibillion-dollar Restore Iraqi Oil contract. According to KBR, the Army was supposed to conduct a site assessment and clear Qarmat Ali of any hazards, rendering it "benign," before operations began. Therefore, any sodium dichromate still on the ground was the Army's fault. But did "benign" mean the Army was supposed to clear any military-related, as opposed to environmental, hazards? Because the architects of the contract did not see fit to include a glossary, we may never know.

The DoD Inspector General's report called the Qarmat Ali contract "impractical" and stated that the Army changed the scope of the contract midstream, and "as a result, Service members and DoD civilians were unintentionally exposed to toxic chemicals and the U.S. Government was made vulnerable to potential health care liabilities for individuals exposed to contamination."

The report also concluded that KBR did not "fully comply" with — and the Corps of Engineers did not enforce — U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. As a result, "nearly 1,000 U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Army civilian employees were exposed to sodium dichromate in the five months it took from the initial site visit until the military Command required personal protective equipment."

Hardly, according to John Resta, scientific adviser to the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion. He told a Senate committee on Veterans Affairs in 2009 that soldiers at Qarmat Ali participated in a series of town hall-style meetings on the subject and "were provided fact sheets about the potential exposures." (The latter repository of knowledge smacked of junior-high health class, with one fact sheet titled — Scout's honor — "Chromium and You.")

Prior to the town hall meetings, according to later testimony, KBR managers had their own meeting to discuss concerns about sodium dichromate. Ed Blacke told a Senate committee in 2008 that he was escorted from the meeting after a disagreement with another KBR health and safety officer.

According to Blacke, the managers "told the workers at that time that sodium dichromate was at worst a mild irritant, that the plant had been thoroughly checked out and was safe, and they were to get back to work...I was kind of shocked that fellow safety and medical officers were telling outrageous and blatant lies to the workers."

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10 comments
Chuckmyers
Chuckmyers

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. chuckmyers@gmail.com Semper Fi

Greysonk
Greysonk

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

Fejsplace
Fejsplace

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

KBR OFFICIAL RESPONSE

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

Estelle711
Estelle711

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Geezy
Geezy

"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.

Guest
Guest

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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