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KBR sodium dichromate case in court

June 18, 2012 at 5:13 PM   |   Comments

PORTLAND, Ore., June 18 (UPI) -- Defense contractor KBR is being sued by Oregon National Guard members who say they were exposed to a carcinogenic chemical in Iraq, attorneys said.

The most contentious motion to be argued at hearings this week in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., concerns allegations KBR deliberately concealed knowledge sodium dichromate was present at the Qarmat Ali, Iraq, water treatment plant it was contracted to repair. Members of the Oregon National Guard, on duty in Iraq, were assigned in 2003 to guard the plant during repairs, and have allegedly suffered health problems from exposure to the chemical, The Portland Oregonian reported Monday.

At issue is the requested exclusion of testimony in the trial on both sides, the newspaper said.

Attorneys for the soldiers say a testifying doctor relied on flawed methodology to "downplay and misrepresent" the dangers of proximity to the plant's toxic dust. They also seek to exclude testimony from a microbiologist who said in court the soldiers have not proven their exposure to sodium dichromate caused their health problems.

The lawyers asked the court to compel KBR to admit it deliberately concealed information it was aware the chemical was present at Qarmat Ali as early as 2002, an accusation KBR attorneys have called "demonstrably false" and "replete with inflammatory falsehoods" in court papers.

According to a deposition two years ago from KBR's in-house lawyer, Chris Heinrich, KBR sought and received an assurance from the government that the firm would not be liable for any personal injury in the course of fulfilling the contract, the newspaper said.

That disclosure led Oregon's congressional delegation to add language to defense appropriations, requiring the military to inform Congress when such indemnities are granted.

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