Posted : Saturday Dec 6, 2008 15:14:39 EST
A Georgia man has filed a lawsuit against contractor KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton, saying the companies exposed everyone at Joint Base Balad in Iraq to unsafe water, food and hazardous fumes from the burn pit there.
Joshua Eller, who worked as a civilian computer-aided drafting technician with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, said military personnel, contractors and third-country nationals may have been sickened by contamination at the largest U.S. installation in Iraq, home to more than 30,000 service members, Defense Department civilians and contractors.
“Defendants promised the United States government that they would supply safe water for hygienic and recreational uses, safe food supplies and properly operate base incinerators to dispose of medical waste safely,” according to the lawsuit, filed Nov. 26 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. “Defendants utterly failed to perform their promised duties.”
Eller and his attorneys are seeking to have the lawsuit declared a class action.
Diana Gabriel, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, said her company is “improperly named” in the lawsuit. “As such, we expect Halliburton to be dismissed from the action as Halliburton has no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the actions alleged,” Gabriel said. “It would be inappropriate for Halliburton to comment on the merits of a matter affecting only the interest of KBR.”
Halliburton announced in April 2007 that it had dissolved its ties with KBR, which had been its contracting, engineering and construction unit since the 1960s.
Heather Browne, director of corporate communications for KBR, said her company “has not been formally served with this litigation, so we are not commenting at this time.”
Eller filed his claim after he deployed in February 2006 for 10 months. The lawsuit claims he developed skin lesions that subsequently spread, filled with fluid and burst. He said they went away, then reappeared, followed by blisters on his feet that made it painful for him to walk. He said they healed, but continue to return every three to four months.
Then, Eller said he experienced vomiting, cramping and diarrhea, and continues to suffer severe abdominal pain.
“Plaintiff witnessed the open air burn pit in operation at Balad Air Force Base,” the lawsuit states. “On one occasion, he witnessed a wild dog running around base with a human arm in its mouth. The human arm had been dumped on the open air burn pit by KBR.”
Eller said he still has nightmares and has been diagnosed with adjustment disorder.
The lawsuit states that KBR was required to comply with military standards for clean water, and monitor it. Eller accused KBR of not performing water quality tests and of not properly treating or chlorinating water, and said an audit by the Defense Department backs up his claim.
A report from Wil Granger, KBR’s water quality manager for Iraq, states that non-potable water used for showering was not disinfected. “This caused an unknown population to be exposed to potentially harmful water for an undetermined amount of time,” according to the report. The report also stated the problems occurred all across Iraq and were not confined to Balad.
The lawsuit states there was no formalized training for KBR employees in proper water operations, and the company maintained insufficient documentation about water safety. The suit notes that former KBR employees Ben Carter and Ken May testified at a congressional hearing in January 2006 that KBR used contaminated water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Carter testified that he found the water polluted with sewage and that KBR did not chlorinate it.
The lawsuit states the swimming pools at Balad were also filled with unsafe water.
Eller also accused KBR of serving spoiled, expired and rotten food to the troops, as well as dishes that may have been contaminated with shrapnel
“Defendants knowingly and intentionally supplied and served food that was well past its expiration date, in some cases over a year past its expiration date,” the lawsuit states. “Even when it was called to the attention of the KBR food service managers that the food was expired, KBR still served the food to U.S. forces.”
The food included chicken, beef, fish, eggs and dairy products, which caused cases of salmonella poisoning, according to the lawsuit.
“KBR prevented their employees from speaking with government auditors and hid employees from auditors by moving them from bases when an audit was scheduled,” the lawsuit states. “Any employees that spoke with auditors were sent to more dangerous locations in Iraq as punishment.”
The lawsuit also accuses KBR of shipping ice in mortuary trucks that “still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces.”
Eller also accuses KBR of failing to maintain a medical incinerator at Joint Base Balad, which has been confirmed by two surgeons in interviews with Military Times about the Balad burn pit. Instead, according to the lawsuit and the physicians, medical waste, such as needles, amputated body parts and bloody bandages were burned in the open-air pit.
“Wild dogs in the area raided the burn pit and carried off human remains,” the lawsuit states. “The wild dogs could be seen roaming the base with body parts in their mouths, to the great distress of the U.S. forces.”
According to military regulations, medical waste must be burned in an incinerator to prevent anyone from breathing hazardous fumes.
“On at least one occasion, defendants were attempting to improperly dispose of medical waste at an open-air burn pit by backing a truck full of medical waste up to the pit and emptying the contents onto the fire,” the lawsuit states. “The truck caught fire. Defendants’ fraudulent actions were thereby discovered by the military.”
The lawsuit also states that the contractors burned old lithium batteries in the pits, “causing noxious and unsafe blue smoke to drift over the base.”
Military Times has received more than 100 letters from troops saying they were sickened by fumes from the burn pits, which burned plastics, petroleum products, rubber, dining-facility waste and batteries.
The lawsuit asks that the plaintiffs receive monetary compensation for physical injuries, emotional distress, fear of future disease, and need for continued medical treatment and involvement, and that KBR and Halliburton be stripped of all revenue and profits earned “from their pattern of constant misconduct and callous disregard to the welfare of Americans serving and working in Iraq.”
Werner Ayers, LLP, of Houston, and Burk O’Neil LLC of Washington, D.C., are representing Eller.