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NEIL GORDON – (POGO) – May 24, 2012 – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D–OR) wants to know if defense contractor KBR is wasting taxpayer money in an effort to drag out lawsuits seeking to hold KBR accountable for exposing American soldiers to toxic chemicals in Iraq. This week, he sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to find out what steps the Department of Defense is taking to ensure KBR is not taking advantage of taxpayers while unnecessarily prolonging the litigation.
Members of the National Guard were assigned to the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in the early months of the Iraq war to protect KBR employees restoring the plant under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) contract. While stationed there, the soldiers were allegedly exposed to dangerous levels of a highly carcinogenic chemical called hexavalent chromium (the same chemical at the center of the legal battle documented in the movie Erin Brockovich). The soldiers claim KBR was aware of the presence of the chemical but failed to warn or take steps to protect them.
When POGO first blogged about the case almost two years ago, we focused on a classified provision in the contract that requires the government to indemnify KBR for all property damage, injury or death occurring at Qarmat Ali, and all related legal expenses, even if KBR had acted with willful misconduct or lack of good faith. (After much urging from Congress, the Department of Defense finally declassified the provision in December.) As we explained in a follow-up blog post, taxpayers could potentially be on the hook for more than $150 million in damages and legal costs.
Wyden: KBR is Wasting Taxpayer Money While Avoiding Responsibility for Exposure of Oregon Guard to Toxic Chemicals
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Washington, D.C. – In a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called on the DoD to investigate the excessive expenses racked up by the legal team of Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) – a defense contractor that operated in Iraq with the contractual ability to pass all of their legal costs to American taxpayers. A lawsuit against KBR brought by a group of Oregon National Guard members assigned to provide security for KBR personnel claims that KBR management knew that the soldiers were being exposed to toxic chemicals while working at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant. Read the remainder of this entry »
Nigel Duara – (Associated Press AP) – PORTLAND, Ore. – April 4th, 2012 – A document uncovered by attorneys for soldiers sickened at an Iraqi water treatment plant shows a military contractor knew a deadly toxin was being stockpiled and used in massive quantities at the facility, despite the contractor’s repeated denials that it had knowledge of the toxin’s presence until soldiers fell ill.
The document, an environmental assessment that Kellogg, Brown and Root completed for the U.S. government before the invasion of Iraq, was finalized in January 2003- a full five months before the company said it had found evidence of the toxic material, sodium dichromate.
The documents show KBR knew Iraqis ordered 8 million pounds of sodium dichromate to keep pipes from corroding, and that the company expected lax environmental maintenance and “lamentable” conditions.
Phone messages and emails left Wednesday for KBR were not immediately returned.
Sodium dichromate is an anticorrosive compound that can cause skin and breathing problems and cancer.
Report finds military, defense contractor failed to take action after troops exposed to carcinogen
Ry Rivard – (Charleston Daily Mail)- CHARLESTON, W.Va. – October 25, 2011 – A recent report faults a national defense contractor and U.S. military officials for failing to comply with and enforce workplace safety standards as Americans – including 122 members of the West Virginia National Guard – were exposed to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq.
The report concludes a two-year investigation by the Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General. About 1,000 U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Army civilian employees were exposed to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in southeastern Iraq, near Basra.
The chemical is an orange powder and a known carcinogen.
The report is the second on the incident. The first report was released last year and focused on government efforts to identify, monitor and care for those who were exposed – an effort that took several years.
The second part, released late last month, details how the exposure happened in the first place.
As the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formed Task Force Restore Iraqi Oil. The task force partnered with defense contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, known as KBR, to restore Iraq’s oil industry.
KBR’s umbrella contract to provide everything from showers to rebuilding airfields tops $37 billion. “It’s like a gigantic monopoly,” says one critic.
After a decade of war, KBR’s umbrella contract tops $37 billion
Sharon Weinberger – (The Center for Public Integrity – iWatch News) – August 30, 2011 – The rush to war in the months following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 created an urgency in the Pentagon, not just for military operations but also for contracting.
When U.S. forces moved into Afghanistan in 2001, there was little, if any, infrastructure to support and house U.S. troops. The military needed someone to do everything from housing troops to rebuilding airfields. The solution was a contract called the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, or LOGCAP, a type of umbrella contract the Army had been using to support is military bases overseas. In late 2001, the Army, after a competition, awarded LOGCAP III to KBR. The Houston-based firm , once a subsidiary of Halliburton, began providing everything from showers to dining halls.
Even beyond single-source contracts, the Pentagon has other types of contracts it can use to quickly award work without having to compete specific jobs. They include umbrella-type contracts, like LOGCAP, that allow the government to buy unspecified goods and services over long periods of time. “It’s the government’s way of saying ‘We don’t know what we want, and we don’t know how much it costs,’” said Laura Peterson, a senior policy analyst with Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group. “Instead they say, ‘we’ll put you on retainer and tell you later what we want and when we want it, and you just bill us.’ You become the government’s concierge, and it’s like a gigantic monopoly.”