Guest Blogger, Tim Elliot; Wartime Contractors may be liable in the future

In the aftermath of several National Guard soldiers from Indiana, Oregon, and West Virginia lawsuit against KBR, the largest U.S. contractor in Iraq, a delegation of Senators and Representatives from Oregon are introducing legislation aimed at stripping U.S. war contractors of their protection against lawsuits. The National Guardsman began attempting to sue the Houston-based contractor two years ago, after alleging that the contractor knowingly allowed for the soldiers to be poisoned by hexavalent chromium, a potent carcinogen.

The soldiers have stated that they, along with other American civilian contractors, were exposed to hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water pump plant in southern Iraq, just north of the Persian Gulf. It’s believed that the highly toxic chemical was left behind by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, and the chemical, a bright orange powder, was undisputedly widely dispersed throughout the grounds of the water plant.

KBR has denied the claim that they put American soldiers in danger knowingly vehemently, and has stated that they notified army engineers about the substance on site as soon as they were aware of the dangers and we informed that their efforts to remedy the situation were effective. However, earlier reports of KBR open-air “burn pits” for disposing of unsorted waste including human and animal corpses, asbestos, medical supplies and waste, paints, solvents, and tires endangering American soldiers health at Joint Base Balad in Iraq have caused some to question KBR’s veracity.

Further, although KBR is an independent military contractor, some are comparing the cases to the Army’s previous denial of the effects of Agent Orange and asbestos-related mesothelioma cancer in veterans. In particular because hexavalent chromium, like asbestos, causes a cancer there is concern that the veterans exposed will have difficulty receiving healthcare benefits. Today, although nearly 1,000 veterans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year and make up over 30% of all mesothelioma cases it is still extremely difficult for veterans to receive VA health care benefits for the cancer. Partially this is because it is extremely difficult to diagnose the mesothelioma symptoms because they are so similar to the symptoms of other, less serious diseases. Of course, a major concern is that the symptoms of lung cancer caused by hexavalent chromium are similar to the symptoms of mesothelioma , including trouble breathing and fluid build-up in the lungs.

The delegation of Oregon lawmakers lobbying to strip military contractors of their protections against lawsuits have cited the concerns regarding the difficulties facing veterans who may develop cancer from hexavalent chromium receiving health benefits from the VA as well as concerns over what they term contractor’s “appalling negligence” as the main reasons that legislation is needed.

Those in opposition of the legislation note that in both instances it appears as though the U.S. Army may have been notified of any danger from environmental toxins, and claim that stripping contractors of their protections from lawsuits will likely create more bureaucracy and severely limit contractors actions and endanger their workers.

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