Soldiers sue contractor for toxic exposure in Iraq

Jennifer Nelson
December 4, 2008
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Sixteen members of Indiana National Guard have filed a lawsuit against a Texas-based contractor working in Iraq for exposing the soldiers to a toxic chemical known to increase the risk of developing cancer.

The plaintiffs, who were primarily deployed through a military company based in Tell City, Ind., filed Dec. 3 the federal lawsuit, Mark McManaway, et al. v. KBR, Inc., et al., No. 3:08-cv-0186, in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. The guardsmen worked at the Qarmat Ali water plant in southern Iraq for a six-month period in 2003 assisting KBR in restoring the water plant so it could resume pumping water into oil wells for a more consistent oil flow. The suit claims KBR downplayed and ignored the danger of the site contamination by sodium dichromate, a toxic chemical used at the water plant as an anti-corrosive that contains nearly pure hexavalent chromium.

Exposure to hexavalent chromium can increase a person's chance to develop various types of cancer and other illnesses. Several of the guardsmen have already become ill as a result of the exposure in 2003, including nasal cancers and rashes, said attorney David Cutshaw, partner at Cohen & Malad, who is representing the soldiers along with Doyle Raizner of Houston.

The soldiers claim they were repeatedly told by the company there was no danger on the site while they worked there, and that their bloody noses and skin lesions were a result of the dry desert air. It was later revealed the company knew of the danger as early as April 2003; the contaminated site was shut down in September 2003.

It wasn't until a congressional hearing in June 2008 did the government and U.S. Army learn how much KBR actually knew about the danger of exposure at the water plant and their ongoing cover-up of soldiers' exposure to the chemical.

In July, commander of the Indiana National Guard started locating and notifying the soldiers who worked at the water plant of their possible exposure to the chemical, Cutshaw said.

"The one thing that really got to me about this is (the soldiers) could have been receiving treatment for the last five years, but KBR has been hiding it," he said.

The suit alleges negligence and gross negligence on the part of KBR for failing to inform and protect the guardsmen from exposure to the hexavalent chromium. As a result of KBR's acts and omissions, the guardsmen are seeking compensation for their personal injuries and damages they currently have and will likely have in the future. The suit claims as a result of their exposure, the guardsmen have been exposed to a greater risk of severe injury or death and will need ongoing health care.

The applicable statute of limitations shouldn't apply in this case because KBR just a few months ago was still providing information to the U.S. Army that denied any knowledge of the site contamination until July 2003, the suit alleges.

Cutshaw said there are a reported 141 soldiers from the Indiana National Guard assigned to patrol the Qarmat Ali water plant, as well as soldiers from Scotland and Great Britain. He said he hadn't heard of any other suits dealing with this issue but thinks once more people learn about this suit, they could file their own or join this suit.

According to Cutshaw, KBR is currently involved in arbitration with KBR civilian employees who worked on the site regarding this issue and that arbitration is set to begin next week.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues