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KBR, the top US Defense Department contractor in Iraq who has alternately been accused of poor construction work leading to 13 US soldiers’ electrocution deaths, the profit-driven inflation of imported gas prices, the abysmal treatment of migrant workers, the rapes of women workers, and the trafficking of human beings, is now being investigated for knowingly exposing American soldiers to cancer-causing toxins.

National Guards in West Virginia, Indiana, and Oregon all report that their soldiers were exposed to sodium dichromate (a form of hexavalent chromium)—the same deadly carcinogen that inspired the film Erin Brockovich after a lawsuit over the pollution of drinking water by hexavalent chromium in Hinkley, CA led to a $333 million settlement by California’s PG&E. The exposure occurred in 2003, when the Guard members were assigned to guard civilians repairing the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Basrah after the US invasion, under the auspices of KBR. The company had gotten the job under a no-bid contract worth billions.

The Pentagon and KBR were aware in 2003 that the chemical was piled around the looted facility, and took blood samples from some soldiers and civilians in Iraq to try to determine their level of exposure. (…)

"They knew back in 2003 that this stuff was dangerous and they told us it wasn’t," said one former West Virginia reservist. (…) "They asked us if we had seen this stuff, breathed it, gotten it on our clothes or our bodies," he said, adding that KBR officials on site told him it was only slightly more dangerous than baby powder.

Russell Kimberling…had been guarding the plant for more than two months when his superiors asked him to escort senior KBR officials there because there were rumors of an orange chemical on the ground that they wanted to see.

He said he got out of his vehicle at the site, kicked the dirt, stirring an orange cloud, and said, "This is what you are talking about."

But when Kimberling, dressed in battle fatigues, turned around, he was stunned to see that the KBR officials who were getting out of their vehicles were all dressed in full chemical suits.

"I knew that there was an issue when they sought to protect themselves and didn’t bother to tell us on the way out there, ‘You might want to have chemical masks and suits,’ " said Kimberling, who intends to join a group of soldiers who are suing KBR. –Farah Stockman, The Boston Globe

A lawsuit is currently underway in Indiana, where two former guardsmen have developed cancer they believe to be a result of hexavalent chromium exposure, and others suffer from unrelenting rashes and nosebleeds. A federal arbitration complaint is also pending in Houston, where 10 contractors are claiming that KBR knowingly allowed them to be poisoned at the facility.

Thus far, KBR has denied all responsibility for wrongdoing in this matter, and has made little to no effort to notify former guardsmen of their risk and need to get tested for exposure. The National Guards of West Virginia, Indiana and Oregon are currently working to locate and contact these soldiers.

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