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Mar-22-2009 14:33printcomments

Oregon's Own Toxicologist Points Out Toxicity of Hexavalent Chromium

The Oregon soldiers impacted by the toxicity are primarily from Hillsboro, Gresham and McMinnville. This article was originally published March 22nd 2009.

Qarmat Ali water treatment plant
KBR was under a deadline to finish repairs on the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant, which pumped water to Iraq's oil fields. It knew in April 2003 that the chemical was harmful but did not clean the site until September, according to internal company memos filed in the case. Courtesy: Common Dreams

(MOLALLA, Ore.) - Several media outlets have been reporting on exposure of Oregon Guard soldiers in Iraq to highly toxic hexavalent chromium that was prominent at a water treatment plant where the soldiers were stationed in 2003.

The plant is located near Iraqi oil fields that were previously exposed to this industrial compound that if inhaled, greatly increases the risk of lung cancer.

The group, Veterans for Common Sense, reports that at least 48 Oregon soldiers tasked with protecting Haliburton contractors at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant, were exposed.

The chemical, Hexavalent Chromium Salts, are best exemplified by various Dichromate salts usually used to remove ALL traces of organic material by chemically burning them from any other material.

This corrosive action also acts on human skin where it causes severe irritation and especially the nose, trachea and lungs where it causes nosebleeds, coughing, pain on breathing and headaches, but especially lung cancer.

Indiana National Guard soldiers, also exposed to Hexavalent Chromium, have sued the Houston-based Haliburton subsidiary KBR, claiming the nation's largest war contractor "disregarded and downplayed the extreme danger of wholesale site contamination."

The suit claims KBR hid its civilian workers' elevated chromium levels and dismissed widespread symptoms -- including constant nosebleeds that toxicologists call "chrome nose" -- as sand allergies, says Veterans for Common Sense.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," Mike Doyle, a Texas attorney, is representing the Indiana Guardsmen said.

Their commander, Lt. Col. James Gentry said that the toxic Sodium Dichromate was all over the plant guarded by the soldiers and was up to four feet deep in places. The chemical dust clings to skin, clothes and boots so that the soldiers were exposed to the poisons on a full-time basis.

The Indiana Guardsmen didn't appreciate the severity of the problem until they saw KBR employees in full protective masks and suits.

This goes to show that soldiers are totally expendable.

They were not protected by KBR and apparently their own officers concluded it was yellow sand even though the troops were coughing, wheezing and getting skin rashes.

Lt. Col. Gentry is now hospitalized with lung cancer.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., is asking Congress to create a medical registry to track all soldiers and ensure monitoring, which President-elect Barack Obama and Oregon's Sen. Ron Wyden already support.

KBR denied via email "any assertion" that the company harmed troops or was responsible for an unsafe condition at the facility. KBR has collected $28 billion in military contracts. They feed American soldiers in both war theaters and perform numerous other duties.

The fallout hit Oregon in January, where officials reported that as many as 52 soldiers may have been exposed -- more than was recently reported by an Army Review Panel.

Concern for Oregon soldiers was first raised by Lt. Col. B.J. Prendergast, who served as executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment in Iraq in 2003. His soldiers had already been reassigned when he saw a command e-mail alert about the exposure. He immediately demanded an occupational health assessment for the troops. They were evaluated in Kuwait, and their history was noted in post-deployment reports at Fort Lewis, Wash. No blood or urine tests were conducted.

Last month, an Army Review Panel that convened at Bayh's request concluded that not testing the Oregonians in 2003 was adequate because none of the Indiana soldiers and civilians tested had "substantially elevated" levels of chromium in their blood. Bayh remains concerned about the type and timeliness of the Indiana tests and has asked the Army for more information.

But even Prendergast didn't know how many Oregon soldiers the Army had identified as potentially exposed until a call from The Oregonian Newspaper.

"This is the first time I have heard about a number of soldiers being tracked," he said. "As an exposed individual, that number (48) needs to be explained. We don't know who is on that list."

Oregon Guard Spokesman Maj. Mike Braibish, said a special officer has been assigned to reach each soldier. That includes 181 others who didn't visit the water treatment facility but who may have been exposed through their colleagues' boots or clothing. The Guard also intends to contact all 420 members of the battalion.

"Doctors may not even know what they're looking for unless they have this information," said Doyle. "This is serious, serious stuff."

The Oregonian cited the fact that this is the carcinogen famously fought by Erin Brockovich in California, early in the war.

Oregon's 1-162 arrived in April 2003, comprised of soldiers primarily from Hillsboro, Gresham and McMinnville.

They were charged with protecting Kuwaiti ports and naval facilities, and they provided personal security to private contractors working in Task Force RIO, Restore Iraqi Oil.

KBR has come under withering congressional fire in recent months for serving expired food and untreated water to soldiers in Iraq, failing to correct electrical work at military installations where several soldiers were electrocuted and dodging federal taxes by paying workers through companies in the Cayman Islands, Veterans for Common Sense reports.

It is interesting that the choice was made to pay huge salaries to workers, often from other countries, to feed U.S. troops in the current war. Military cooks have always been responsible for efficiently feeding military forces and the dollars that have flowed into the Haliburton/KBR coffers from the Bush Administration are out of this world; astronomically high.

Braibish, the Oregon Guard's spokesman, said they are determined to contact each soldier.

"We don't know if anyone has had any illness," he said. "The bottom line is that our soldiers need to be made aware so they can report the exposure, either to their chain or the Veterans Administration, to get the care they need.

"We want them to know that we care."

Here is Dr. Leveque's article from January 15th 2009: Iraq Veterans Poisoned: War Contractors Knew But Concealed - Dr. Phillip Leveque

Here is Julie Sullivan's Oregonian article from last week: Senators propose registry for poisoned Iraq veterans - by Jullie Sullivan, The Oregonian

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Henry Ruark March 25, 2009 8:25 am (Pacific time)

To all: Best comment possible on this one is fact of strong support from NATION. This "see with own eyes" speaks for itself, starting with solid sensible situation from Bend, Oregon: "We have assured friends, family, strangers, that they must never go hungry if they can get themselves to our home. Those of us who still have intact jobs need to open our homes, hearts, and cooking pots to our community as was done in the Great Depression." -- Vic, Nation reader, Bend, Oregon Dear Nation Friend: Past my anger, I can see the antidote to the AIGs and CNBCs of the world, and it's Vic and our Nation Associates. It's people like Vic who are the embodiment of the populist spirit of this magazine, just as much as the progressive leaders who've contributed to this magazine for the past 143 years. These last couple weeks alone I've seen that fiery determination in full force as Nation readers and activists take CNBC to task for running a fluff PR campaign for Wall Street executives and cheerleading us toward an economic meltdown. CNBC is a perfect example of the type of callous coverage that the nation doesn't need." -------------------- Unmistakably, this points up same truly American purposes shared by extremely diverse political-principle groups, from "liberal" to DB's own "Independent-Libertarian". GO !! D.B. - Right past Op Eds here have been so stating for some years now. Yours permits flat-out sure view of true American concern far beyond political pander for ANY party or so-called "political principle."

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