DPC | September 29, 2008

Press Release: Senate DPC Investigation Prompts Army to Review KBR's Exposure of U.S. Troops, Contractors to Toxic Chemical in Iraq

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) --- U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Monday the U.S. Army is asking a senior-level Army panel and the independent Defense Health Board to investigate the exposure of U.S. troops and contractors to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water facility in Iraq. Dorgan requested the review in June following a Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), where exposed workers and a medical expert testified. 

"The Army's decision to fully investigate the exposure at Qarmat Ali is overdue, and very important to the lives and health of the soldiers and workers exposed at the site," Dorgan said. "I was pleased to learn several weeks ago that the Indiana National Guard, whose troops were exposed at Qarmat Ali, has started to notify them of the situation and taken steps to ensure they are monitored and receive necessary medical treatment." 

In a letter informing Dorgan that the Army would review the situation, Army Secretary Pete Geren said the investigation would be completed within 60 days by a senior-level Army panel led by the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) and the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology). Army Secretary Geren stated that the Army Review Panel will also assess whether "the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers exercised appropriate contract administration and oversight of KBR." 

Dorgan asked the Army to investigate after former KBR employees testified at a DPC hearing he chaired on June 20 that the Qarmat Ali site was so heavily contaminated by the deadly chemical that it filled the air when the wind blew. The KBR employees, like the soldiers who provided security at the facility, worked there with little or no protective gear or medical monitoring. 

The workers stated that KBR knew exposure to the chemical could be deadly, but continued to downplay the problem and dismiss the workers' concerns. A renowned medical expert told Senators at the hearing that sodium dichromate is one of the world's most deadly carcinogens. The KBR workers testified that they are now experiencing health problems as a result of the exposure.

U.S. Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) introduced legislation to create an Agent Orange-style registry of U.S. soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals while deployed, after the hearing disclosed that 139 soldiers from 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry based in Jasper and Tell City, Ind., were exposed to sodium dichromate while guarding the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Basra, Iraq.

If passed, Bayh's legislation would require the Department of Defense to maintain a registry of at-risk soldiers who were exposed to sodium dichromate and other hazardous materials during deployment.


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