Guard soldiers file suit over chemical exposure in Iraq

Ed Blacke, former KBR health and safety worker
Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Indiana soldiers exposed to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq filed a lawsuit Wednesday, saying a US company knew the water treatment plant they were protecting was contaminated and dangerous.

A Channel 13 special report last month revealed two soldiers now have cancer and a third died this year from a disease that experts say may have been linked to the same chemical made famous in the Erin Brockovich film.

"A day's exposure could write you a death warrant. Just one day's exposure," said Ed Blacke, former KBR health and safety worker.

Blacke told Eyewitness News the Iraqi Baath party sabotaged the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant with a cancer-causing chemical called sodium dichromate. The soldiers guarding the plant were from Indiana.

"They were standing out in it, patrolling in it, working in it," said Blacke.

Ed Blacke says 60 percent of the people at the plant began having nosebleeds and trouble breathing. Blacke said he sounded the alarm bells. "When the issues came up, it was denial and intimidation to keep it quiet. And people were getting hurt."

Blacke testified about his former company before a Senate committee investigating the issue. "I do feel it was criminally negligent of KBR," he told the committee.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of 16 soldiers including David Rancourt claims KBR "knew about both the site contamination and the extreme danger."

One of the nation's leading experts on the chemical explained the dangers during a recent interview in New York City.

"It's one of the most potent carcinogens known to man," said Dr. Max Costa, NYU School of Medicine.

Costa says sodium dichromate can cause cancer and other diseases. He also says KBR should have shut the plant down.

"When you see something like that, you shouldn't let people continue to go to work there. You should shut it down and remediate it," Costa said.

The lawsuit claims KBR "knew before the guardsmen ever arrived...about the dangerous contamination at the site" and "left the soldiers and workers onsite unprotected and exposed."

KBR issued the following statement in response to the filing of the lawsuit:

"KBR's commitment to the safety and security of all employees, the troops and those we serve, is the company's top priority. The company takes issue with the assertion that KBR knowingly harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition. That is simply untrue. Further the company in no way condones any action that would compromise the safety of those we serve. KBR has fully cooperated with the government on this issue and provided information requested of us."

"This kind of thing is just not acceptable," said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). Bayh asked the Army to investigate. "If a company - because they wanted to make a quick buck - intentionally exposed Indiana guardsmen and women to a cancer causing chemical, if that's proven - they ought to go to jail," he said.

Sergeant First Class David Moore from Dubois, Indiana died this year from chronic interstitial lung disease. His death is now ruled service related.

"He went over a very healthy man and he came back very sick," said Audrey Weisheit, Moore's former girlfriend.

His family still wonders if Moore's death was caused by a hidden enemy - one that he was not prepared to fight.

The Hidden Enemy - Read the original story

See the lawsuit (PDF)