KBR Faces Wrongful Death and Toxic Exposure Claims over Iraq and Afghanistan
Nine new lawsuits, filed in April in the states of Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, and Wyoming, charge that KBR, Inc. endangered the health and safety of U.S. soldiers and contractors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
KBR is an American engineering and construction company, and a former subsidiary of Halliburton. As the largest non-union construction company in the United States, it won a number of U.S. military contracts for adjunct services in Iraq, beginning in 2003, and Afghanistan, beginning in 2001. The suits state that the burning of waste in KBR’s large, open-air burn pits in those countries, without instituting any safety controls like masks or rebreathers, may have put servicemen and workers at risk of later developing diseases related to asbestos and other hazardous chemicals.
Twenty one plaintiffs, including current and former military personnel, private contractors, and the families of men who may have died as a result of exposure to toxic emissions from KBR burn pits, are seeking damages.
Witnesses describe the pall of smoke from these pits as thick and noxious, sometimes colored blue or green by the chemicals being burnt, and hanging in a thick pall over U.S. military bases and work camps in the countries where such incineration occurred.
The burn pits, which incinerated unsorted waste like human and animal corpses, asbestos, medical supplies and waste, paints, solvents, tires and even whole vehicles, were so big that tractors were used to deposit the waste into them. KBR also reportedly burned biohazards.
The U.S. military has acknowledged the concerns, but says its own testing of the most notorious facility, the Balad Air Force Base burn pit, concluded that there was no significant or prolonged health risk for those who were exposed less than a year.
None of the three main agencies charged with determining, preventing or evaluating asbestos exposures – OSHA, the CDC, and the American Cancer Society – would agree. In their published opinions, no safe level for asbestos exposure has ever been established, and exposures ranging from a day to a lifetime have equal potential to trigger mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma, a usually fatal cancer of mesothelial tissues in the lung or abdomen, is a silent killer, lying dormant for decades and then exploding into lethal tumors for which there is no cure. Those diagnosed with mesothelioma are rarely given more than 18 months to live.
Asbestos also causes asbestosis, a chronic breathing disorder similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and various but not always fatal tumors of the digestive tract. It is, however, the only known cause of mesothelioma.
Collectively, the 70 current and future plaintiffs charge KBR (including Kellogg, Brown & Root, and Halliburton) with wrongful death, negligence, battery, breach of duty to warn, medical monitoring, future medical expenses, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract. They want KBR to cover the costs of medical monitoring, future medical expenses and other damages.
KBR denies liability. Halliburton expects to be dismissed on the basis that it has no legal responsibility for KBR’s actions.
The good news for plaintiffs is that a recent case, filed by former U.S. Navy machinist Charles H. Cundiff against two manufacturing firms that used asbestos in their products, has been decided in favor of Cundiff.
The manufacturers, John Crane, Inc. and Lone Star Industries, have been ordered to pay Cundiff and his spouse $12.1 million for asbestos exposure he incurred while handling asbestos-laden products (Insulag and insulating cement) when working on a naval ship in the 1960s. The exposure resulted in mesothelioma, which has so weakened Cundiff that he did not appear at a May 11 hearing and his deposition was used in testimony instead.
Sources: CNN, AllHeadlineNews. Vets4politics.blogspot.com