Judge Orders KBR to Pay National Guardsman over Poisoned Water in Iraq

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Waste water treatment plant in Iraq (AP photo)

A major defense contractor for the Iraq war has been ordered by a federal court to pay $75 million to a dozen National Guard soldiers from Oregon.


The guardsmen sued KBR Inc., a former subsidiary of Halliburton, over their exposure to the toxic chemical compound hexavalent chromium while serving in Iraq. That compound, a dangerous carcinogen, was produced by sodium dichromate, a rust inhibitor.


Nearly 40 guardsmen originally banded together in a class action lawsuit, claiming that—from May to September 2003—they were poisoned in the course of guarding a water plant in the Basrah oil fields that KBR was hired to work on.


Some of the plaintiffs dropped out of the case, and once the proceedings concluded, a federal jury found KBR liable for negligence and ordered it to pay 12 plaintiffs $6.25 million each in punitive damages. One plaintiff died last year, and was posthumously represented in the case.


Judge Paul Papak said there was “a preponderance” of trial evidence that showed the defendants “knew of [the]…contamination” at the site, “affirmatively misrepresented the extent of the risk posed by sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali” to the plaintiffs and that the company “failed to disclose the extent of that risk” to them.


Another plaintiff, Lawrence Roberta, testified at an Oregon House subcommittee in 2009 that "the sodium dichromate was everywhere, it was stacked in bags....It appeared that somebody had taken the bags to the doors, 'cause it was stored in buildings, and physically stacked it there and destroyed the bags so you had to walk through it to get in."


Two other plaintiffs testified that they had gear to protect them from exposure to the chemical, but they didn’t use it because KBR hadn’t disclosed the existence of the substance at the plant.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Poisoned Guardsman to Get $75M From KBR (by Matt Toomb, Courthouse News Service)

Rocky Bixby et al. v. KBR Inc. (U.S. District Court, Oregon)

Taxpayers to Cover War Contractor Losses in Lawsuits by Soldiers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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