Tuesday morning in the KBR case: What the Army knew and when, and who it told

Tuesday morning in the KBR case: What the Army knew and when, and who it told

Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012, 12:13 PM

By Mike Francis, The Oregonian

Lawyers for KBR Inc. have saved some of their most powerful testimony for nearly the end of the trial in U.S. District Court in Portland. They presented recorded testimony on video from two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees who spent time at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant in spring and summer of 2003, when soldiers of the Oregon,  Indiana, South Carolina and West Virginia National Guard provided security there.

It can be difficult to follow the video testimony, which can be choppy because of editing, and when answers given in “cross-examination” were actually delivered earlier in the recorded conversation.

Nevertheless, an Army Corps of Engineers chemist named Chris Kennedy, who first visited Qarmat Ali in May, when Oregon soldiers were still serving there, said he became aware of the presence of sodium dichromate as early as his first trip to the site. Sodium dichromate contains the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, which can cause lung cancer if absorbed into the lungs in sufficient volumes. A set of 12 Oregon Guard soldiers and veterans are suing KBR, accusing it of knowingly exposing them to the chemical hazard — an accusation that KBR denies.

Kennedy said he didn’t remember writing any memos or sending any emails documenting his knowledge and concern about contamination. He said he shared the information with colleagues at the Corps office at Camp Commando, Kuwait.

On his second visit to the site in early June, he said he saw torn bags containing a yellowish powder, and saw a label saying “sodium dichromate.”

In the “cross-examination,” Kennedy said he had no further discussion with KBR representatives about sodium dichromate, but assumed the contractor would test for sodium dichromate contamination after their discussion. Such testing didn’t occur until later in the summer.

Earlier Tuesday, Jerry Balcom, another Army Corps employee charged with overseeing the safety of operations in southern Iraq in 2003, said he made presentations to his higher-ups about sodium dichromate contamination a few weeks after his arrival in Iraq in July. He said his predecessor, Mike Remington, already had informed his higher-ups. He also said KBR officials communicated openly with him about the subject.

Kennedy’s testimony, in particular, highlighted the chaos of the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He said sodium dichromate was a lower concern for him than the leaking tanks of chlorine he observed at Qarmat Ali, and elsewhere, he was worried about hazards ranging from oil fires to roadside bombs.

The jury is expected to begin considering the case on Wednesday.

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