A federal court jury in Portland, Oregon, has awarded 12 Oregon National Guard soldiers over $7 million each in a lawsuit alleging that U.S. defense contractor KBR knowingly exposed them to a carcinogen in Iraq during 2003.
While employed by the U.S. Department of Defense to rehabilitate the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant, near Basra, Iraq, KBR assigned the 12 Oregon soldiers, along with other U.S. and British troops, to guard the plant from attack and tampering.
Also See: Federal Government Contracting
Evidence presented in the case of Rocky Bixby, et al., v. KBR, Inc., showed that while KBR was aware that surfaces of the plant's piping were contaminated by sodium dichromate, a corrosive cleaning agent known to be a carcinogen and banned from use in the United States, they misled the soldiers about the presence and health risks of the chemical.
During the trial before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, attorneys for the soldiers also produced internal KBR documents showing the company was aware of a "serious health problem" at the Qarmat Ali plant and that of the people working at the plant, "almost 60%" had shown symptoms of exposure to sodium dichromate.
According to their testimonies, all 12 soldiers reported that they now suffer from health issues, including respiratory, skin, gastrointestinal, and lung problems due to their exposure to toxic materials. Testifying on video tape was the late Lt. Col. James Gentry, of the Indian Guard, who died in 2009 of lung cancer directly linked by VA doctors to exposure to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali.
The jury unanimously found KBR negligent, finding the company had demonstrated "reckless and outrageous indifference" to the health of the soldiers. The jury awarded each of the soldiers $6.25 million in punitive damages and $850,000 in non-economic damages.
The Oregon Guard soldiers were far from alone, as some 150 additional claims against KBR related to the Qarmat Ali are currently pending in federal courts.