$85 Million to National Guard Vets Poisoned by KBR
Former National Guard soldiers who are lining up to sue KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, for exposing them to toxins during the early days of the Iraq War got a big boost on Nov. 2 when a Portland, Ore. jury awarded 12 veterans of the Oregon Army National Guard a total of over $85 million.
The jury agreed with the plaintiffs that U.S. government contractor KBR negligently exposed them to hexavalent chromium – a known carcinogen in the anticorrosion chemical used by the Iraqis during the process of extracting oil – during the “Restore Iraqi Oil” mission at Qarmat Ali in 1993.
That mission was designed to avoid a repeat of the burning oil fields of the first Gulf War, according to a local news report. U.S. and British soldiers were hired to guard a water treatment plant there.
Long-term Exposure Can Be Deadly
The anticorrosion chemical – sodium dichromate – is a powder of yellowish orange crystals that the guardsmen testified was all over everything at the Qarmat Ali site in southern Iraq. One vet, now confined to a wheelchair and on oxygen, said he ate a chicken patty that was covered in the crystals and was immediately sick.
“Workers who breathe hexavalent chromium compounds at their jobs for many years may be at increased risk of developing lung cancer,” according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates use of the chemical on work sites.
“Breathing high levels of hexavalent chromium can irritate or damage the nose, throat, and lungs,” says OSHA. “Irritation or damage to the eyes and skin can occur if hexavalent chromium contacts these organs in high concentrations or for a prolonged period of time.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has said hexavalent chromium is carcinogenic when inhaled and probably so when ingested over a lifetime, according to a report by Chemistry World, but the agency started a new review of the chemical in March that is not yet complete.
The plaintiffs said Houston-based KBR should have known the soldiers were being exposed to a dangerous chemical.
After a 19-day trial, the jury agreed, awarding each of the 12 plaintiffs $850,000 in compensatory damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages.
Plaintiffs’ attorney David Sugarman congratulated his legal team and the 12 plaintiffs on his Facebook page after the verdict – which is appears to be only the beginning. “Great team effort,” he said. “Great first verdict.”
These 12 plaintiffs were considered “test” plaintiffs, as the lawyers in the case had agreed to run this trial first; another trial, set to begin in federal court in Portland in the next few months, could have over 20 plaintiffs.
Another similar lawsuit over hexavalent chromium poisoning brought by soldiers from Indiana against KBR is pending in federal court in Texas.
Taxpayers on the Hook?
KBR, the largest non-unionized construction company in the United States, is not going quietly, however.
The company’s defense lawyer Geoffrey Harrison with Susman Godfrey in Houston was quoted as saying the court improperly allowed some of the plaintiffs’ expert medical testimony. “KBR did safe, professional and exceptional work in Iraq under difficult circumstances – and multiple US Army officers testified under oath that KBR communicated openly and honestly about the potential health risks,” he said.
“Following the final judgment, KBR’s actions may include appealing the decision, seeking to enforce KBR’s indemnity rights under the Restore Iraqi Oil contract with the U.S. Army, and seeking reimbursement for all incurred costs for which KBR is entitled pursuant to the contract under the Federal Acquisition Regulations,” according to a KBR press release.
That means in the end, the American taxpayers, not KBR, may have to foot this bill.
If you’re concerned about your exposure to a dangerous chemical, contact a toxic torts lawyer on Lawyers.com.