A Portland, Ore., jury took just two days to reach a guilty verdict in the case of Iraq War veterans claiming a toxic chemical while protecting a construction site in Iraq harmed them.
Kellogg, Brown and Root, a global engineering, construction and services company, was ordered to pay $85 million, including $850,000 in non-economic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages, to each of the soldiers.
The suit, brought by a dozen Oregon soldiers, alleged they had been exposed to the toxic chemical sodium dichromate. The soldiers were on duty in southern Iraq guarding a water plant when the exposure occurred. The toxin contains a known cancer-causing chemical called hexavalent chromium. The soldiers suffered respiratory ailments after exposure and now fear the long-term consequences of that exposure.
The situation occurred in early 2003 while KBR was reconstructing and repairing a water plant and the soldiers were protecting the workers. Bags of sodium dichromate, used to keep the pipes from rusting, were laying unprotected and ripped open, exposing the chemical to the air that the soldiers were breathing.
The plaintiffs allege that KBR knew about the chemical exposure yet took no action to remedy the situation. KBR witnesses at the trial state they fulfilled their obligation by notifying the Army of the risk of exposure to sodium dichromate.
KBR also defended itself by testifying that the soldiers’ illnesses were a result of pre-existing conditions and hazards of the desert air in the war zone. KBR contends that any exposure at the water plant was not severe enough or for a long enough duration to cause any serious health issues.
KBR was part of Halliburton Corp., the largest United States defense contractor used during the Iraq War. KBR was in charge of the engineering and construction projects awarded to Halliburton in Iraq. As of April 2007, KBR and Halliburton were separate companies.
Soldier Speaks Out
Rocky Bixby, the main plaintiff in the suit said, “This was about showing that they cannot get away with treating soldiers like that. It should show them what they did was wrong, prove what they did was wrong and punish them for what they did.”
The trial, which lasted three weeks, is the first in Oregon, with another scheduled to begin. Lawsuits are also pending in the states of Indiana and West Virginia.