Update: Soldier Poisoned by KBR Dies
Lt. Col. James C. Gentry, poisoned by the toxic chemical sodium dichromate at a KBR-managed facility in Iraq, died of lung cancer earlier this week. A non-smoker, doctors attributed Gentry’s death at age 52 to the toxic exposure. For several months in 2003, he served at Qarmat Ali, the KBR site notorious for exposing more than 600 soldiers and civilian staff to the cancer-causing chemical.
Sodium dichromate is a concentrated form of hexavalent chromium, one of the most potent carcinogens listed by the EPA and a chemical known to cause lung and respiratory cancers. Records show that KBR knew the Qarmat Ali site was heavily contaminated with the chemical, but downplayed soldier’s complaints, attributing their breathing problems, rashes, and other ill effects to “dry air” or “sand allergies.”
Gentry was one of 47 Indiana soldiers suing KBR for the poisoning. At least four other lawsuits involving soldiers from other states are ongoing. One suit filed by five current and former Oregon Army National Guard soldiers alleges that KBR failed to do required testing for toxic hazards, destroyed records to cover-up their knowledge of the contamination, and/or denied that their symptoms were related to toxic exposures.
Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has introduced the Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act, which grants access to health care and nursing services for veterans exposed to toxics during their service. The bill would also create a registry of soldiers exposed to toxins, modeled on the government’s registry for soldiers exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.