An American military contractor, Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) has been ordered to pay $85 million to compensate 12 Oregon soldiers who guarded an oilfield water plant during the Iraq war. According to a recent Associated Press article appearing in The Washington Post, the soldiers were exposed to the toxin sodium dichromate at a water plant they were guarding. Exposure to the toxin could cause cancer later in life.
According to the jury trial’s outcome, each soldier is to receive $850,000 in non-economic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages. There are suits pending in Texas, involving soldiers from Texas, Indiana and West Virginia, and another suit by National Guard soldiers pending in Oregon. One case is still in Maryland federal court, in which former KBR employees who worked on Army bases in Iraq and Afghanistan claim KBR allowed them to be exposed to toxic smoke from garbage disposal “burn pits.”
KBR was found liable for negligence, but not “on a claim of fraud.” (The Washington Post, 11/2/12) While KBR apparently communicated openly about the work the soldiers did and the potential health risks to which they were exposed, witnesses for KBR testified the soldiers’ conditions were the result of exposure to “desert air and pre-existing conditions” (The Washington Post).
During the Iraq War, KBR served as the engineering and construction arm of Halliburton—the firm formerly headed up by Dick Cheney from 1995 through 2000—and the largest U.S. contractor employed during the Iraq War.