Friday, December 05, 2008

Supporting the troops

Privatization and cronyism in action.

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.

[...]

“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.”

[...]

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.
This is just more of the same from the administration that sent troops into combat with inadequate body armor and inadequately armored vehicles, and opposed Sen. Jim Webb's 21st Century GI Bill -- that is, before recognizing that opposition was politically damaging and a lost cause, and then took credit for passing the bill.

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