An Oregon jury has ordered Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, to pay $85 million to dozens of soldiers for respiratory illnesses suffered while serving in Iraq. The verdict follows a lawsuit brought by a dozen Oregon soldiers who had guarded an oilfield water plant during the Iraq war. The soldiers allege they suffer from respiratory ailments after their exposure to sodium dichromate, and they fear that a carcinogen the toxin contains, hexavalent chromium, could cause cancer later in life.
During the Iraq war, KBR was the engineering and construction arm of Halliburton, the former employer of then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Just after the March 2003 invasion, KBR was responsible for reconstructing the water plant while National Guardsmen defended the area. Bags of unguarded sodium dichromate were ripped open, allowing the substance to spread across the plant and into the air. At trial, the soldiers alleged that KBR knew about the presence and danger of sodium dichromate but did nothing.
KBR defended the allegations by noting that they informed the U.S. Army of the risks of exposure to sodium dichromate. KBR witnesses also testified that the soldiers’ health problems were a result of the desert air and pre-existing conditions. And, KBR argued that the soldiers weren’t around enough sodium dichromate for enough time to cause serious health problems.
The jury found KBR found guilty of negligence and awarded each of the soldiers $850,000 in noneconomic damages and $6.25 million in punitive damages.
This was the first trial in a suit concerning soldiers’ exposure to toxins at the plant. There is another similar lawsuit in Oregon and cases involving soldiers from Texas, Indiana and West Virginia pending in Texas.