National Guard and Defense Contractor Have Bad Chemistry

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Croda chemicals plant, by geograph user Derek Harper, licensed via Creative Commons

Wait, Water Plants Could Be Unsafe?

Cancel your vacation plans to any water plants in the Middle East.  American defense contractor KBR was recently ordered to settle with the United States National Guard in response to a toxic chemical issue.  About a dozen soldiers took up the lawsuit, claiming KBR knew all along that they were being exposed to a drug called “carcinogen hexavalent chromium” at an Iraqi water facility.  A judge in Portland, Oregon ordered the settlement of $85 million with each individual member of the National Guard receiving around $7 million.  The soldiers are currently suffering from respiratory issues, trouble breathing, and skin conditions that will require extensive health care for the immediate future.

There is a very large part of me that doubts an American defense contractor would  “knowingly” expose members of its own National Guard to a dangerous chemical.  Negligence is probably the real culprit here, and I hope the people responsible for overlooking this issue were reprimanded.  I’m a big proponent of the idea that everyone makes mistakes and you have to learn from them, however at some levels the stakes are way too high.  U.S. soldiers have enough to worry about already whilst serving overseas, but this is a completely avoidable issue.  Hopefully the court ordered settlement will help pay for medical bills, or even help these soldiers support their families and put their kids through college.

KBR’s standpoint is that these soldiers were very well aware of the potential risks at working at the power plant and claim they are not responsible.  They claim that U.S. Army officers even stated under oath that they understood the danger they were putting themselves in.  Part of me is conflicted here.  I have close friends who serve our country in the armed forces, and couldn’t be more proud of them.  I also have friends who work with government agencies, developing new technologies and precautionary measures to better protect us.  I just get the feeling that if everybody took a step back and really focused on what’s important in regards to their duties, we would not have to hear about terrible situations such as this.