When we wrote about American and European soldiers suing Kellogg, Brown & Root for allegedly exposing them to a cancer-causing chemical at an Iraqi water treatment plant, we thought the company's excuse -- it had no idea the chemical was onsite before boots were on the ground -- was pretty flimsy. After all, a United Nations Food-for-Oil report indicated two years prior that Iraq's Ministry of Oil had ordered 4,020 tons of water-treatment chemicals, including the one at issue: sodium dichromate. If KBR was hired, for millions, to restore Iraq's oil industry, how could its people not know what the U.N. and the Ministry of Oil (and the freakin' Houston Press, after a bit of Googling) knew?
And now, lawyers for the soldiers have found what they say is proof positive that KBR did know: In a motion filed in an Oregon federal court Wednesday, the lawyers accuse KBR of hiding an environmental assessment indicating that the company reviewed, and relied on, the same U.N. report before any of its personnel, and the soldiers providing security, went to the treatment plant. (The lawyers have also filed a twin lawsuit in Houston, but have not filed a similar motion here yet.)
The revelation seems to shatter KBR's version of events, which is that the company did not know about the presence of sodium dichromate until June 2003, since the document in question is dated January 2003.
The soldiers were exposed to the chemical while providing security to contractors at the Qarmat Ali water injection facility. Qarmat Ali was littered with sodium dichromate, a highly carcinogenic chemical banned in the U.S. Formerly used in Iraq as an anti-corrosive, the chemical contains hexavalent chromium, perhaps best known from the movie Erin Brockovich.
One of the soldiers' attorneys, Mike Doyle of Houston, tells Hair Balls that KBR's attorneys never acknowledged the existence of the document during the discovery phase. The assessment was found in a mountain of documents released during a 2011 investigation by the U.S. Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General. Doyle's motion asks the court to order KBR to turn over the report and to "compel the identification of KBR employees and representatives implicated in its creation and concealment, as well as issue sanctions consistent with the serious misconduct at issue."
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KBR's attorney, Geoffrey Harrison of Houston, told the Oregonian, "I see the motion for what I think it is. It is to distract attention from the lack of merit and to distract attention from the plaintiffs' lawyers' and experts' inability to prove with evidence the hyperbolic claims they have made."
(We called Harrison and he told us he would need to get permission to speak about the issue. If we hear back, we'll update.)