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Oregon National Guard soldiers vs. KBR – Trial News

Rocky Bixby 2010 – photo Beth Nakamura / The Oregonian

After some discussion of his military duties, his skin condition and his uncertainty about the effects of his exposure, his lawyer asked him why he had joined the lawsuit against KBR.

Because it could happen again,” he said. The idea that KBR workers and officials might have known something he didn’t about the toxic hazards at Qarmat Ali is “stressful” and “upsetting,” he said. ~Testimony of veteran Ronald Bjerklund

The KBR trial operates on two planes: The soldiers’ and the lawyers’
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – October 18, 2012 – It’s striking, while sitting through the testimony and the legal maneuvering in the case brought by Oregon soldiers against KBR Inc., to note the differing perspectives each participant brings to the trial.

The lawyers and Judge Paul Papak are sorting through questions about legal and technical issues such as which testimony and legal demonstrations are permissible, as the jury weighs the facts and opinions presented in court.

But the group of 12 Oregon men who are plaintiffs are different. They aren’t in court to sift the legal tactics or matters of medicine. They say they are there because, if an injustice occurred, it deserves a reckoning.

Thursday afternoon brought to the stand Ronald Bjerklund, 42, an Army and Oregon National Guard veteran who’s deployed four times. He’s concerned about a persistent skin irritation that he fears may have been triggered by his presence for two days at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in 2003.  (Click HERE for article)

Thursday morning in the KBR case: A few words from the Army Corps of Engineers
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – October 18, 2012 – Mike Remington was the Army Corps of Engineers safety specialist for the Restore Iraqi Oil project in Iraq from late March 2003 until July 5, when he flew home for a family emergency. That put him in charge of safety at sites such as Qarmat Ali, where KBR Inc. engineers and technicians were working to repair a badly damaged water treatment plant, when Oregon soldiers served there.

Remington delivered sometimes-contradictory testimony in the form of a recorded deposition, portions of which were played Thursday morning in the U.S. District Courtroom of Magistrate Judge Paul Papak, who is presiding over a case brought by Oregon Guard soldiers against KBR. They accuse the company of knowingly exposing them to a carcinogen at Qarmat Ali.

Remington said at one point that he thought KBR was running “a loose ship” at Qarmat Ali, partly because the Corps of Engineers lacked expertise in the oil industry and thus relied more heavily on KBR. He said there was “definitely less oversight” of operations at Qarmat Ali by the Army Corps.

He also made the rather explosive suggestion that higher-ups at the Corps erased or lost some of his memos from early in the project, and he said further that a KBR project manager encouraged him to communicate orally rather than in writing — a request he said he found unprofessional.  (Click HERE for article)

Wednesday in the KBR case: KBR goes on offensive against medical expert
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – October 17, 2012 – Lawyers for the Oregon Guard veterans suing defense contractor KBR Inc. have hired Dr. Arch Carson, a toxicologist who charges $350 an hour for his involvement on the case, to review medical records and offer opinions about whether soldiers’ health complaints — from breathing difficulties to skin rashes — are the result of their service at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in southern Iraq in 2003. The plant was contaminated by sodium dichromate, a chemical compound that contains a potent carcinogen, hexavalent chromium. Soldiers accuse the company of negligently exposing them to health risks.

Wednesday morning, KBR’s chief attorney, Geoffrey Harrison grilled Carson about the shortcomings in his analysis, from his inability to estimate to a dose of exposure to any soldier to his reliance on estimates about how much time the soldiers spent at the plant, made by the soldiers themselves after the lawsuit was filed in 2009 — six years after the events. In some cases, those estimates varied widely from what the soldiers reported to military health officials in 2004, or in other statements.

“You do not know the dose of hexavalent chromium for any particular plaintiff, right?” Harrison asked. “Right,” responded Carson. (Click HERE for article)

Tuesday in the KBR case: A few tears, challenges to memories
Mike Francis – (The Oregonian) – October 16, 2012 – Two men — one an Oregon Guard veteran, and the other still serving as an officer — testified Tuesday morning in the case against KBR Inc. in federal court in Portland.

The veteran is Rocky Bixby, the lead-named plaintiff in the case. He wrapped up the testimony he started Monday by explaining to the court how he feels about the potential health hazards he and the soldiers of his squad may have faced at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in southern Iraq in 2003.

“I feel guilty for not knowing,” said Bixby, his voice breaking. “And for not asking.”

Bixby was in charge of a squad — a sub-element of a platoon — while serving in Kuwait and southern Iraq in 2003. Had he known of the dangers posed by sodium dichromate, which Iraqis used as an anticorrosion agent at the plant, “I could have pulled my squad out of there,” he said. (Click HERE for article)

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