What’s a little sodium dichromate, anyway? So it’s a known human carcinogen and can do a lot of other nasty things. No big deal. Not for Iraq war contractor, KBR, anyway. At the time KBR was a subsidiary of
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton. So when they were given a lucrative contract to clean up and safeguard Iraqi oilfields after the Bush Mission was Accomplished in 2003, they told the soldiers and workers that the chemical, used as an antirust agent and then strewn all over the oil facilities, was a “mild irritant.” Later they admitted this wasn’t exactly accurate, so the Army tested blood and urine of over a hundred of the workers for chromium. No problem:
Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, the Deputy Director for Force Health Protection and Readiness, told the [Boston] Globe in an interview earlier this year that the samples from the soldiers were brought to the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine in Aberdeen, Md., and that 98 percent showed the “normal range” of chromium. Yesterday, Kilpatrick said physical exams on the soldiers showed “no definitive signs or symptoms . . . that would indicate chromium exposure.” (Boston Globe)
Max Costa, chairman of the Department of Environmental Medicine at New York University, told the committee that ordinary blood and urine tests would not have detected heavy levels of sodium dichromate exposure after a few days. He said that the military would have had to conduct a highly specialized red blood cell test within four months of the exposure to determine the soldiers’ risk of illness.
“Most people don’t get it right,” said Costa, after the hearing. “It is not an established test that medical labs normally do.”
It was not clear yesterday whether the more specialized tests were conducted on the soldiers. The Army lab in Aberdeen is not accredited to conduct those tests, but may have sent the samples elsewhere, according to Defense officials familiar with the procedures there.
Costa is one of the world’s pre-eminent authorities on the carcinogenic properties of metals. I also wasn’t aware there was a “normal range” for chromium. So that’s a pretty big “Except”. So is this:
Edward Blacke, who served as KBR’s health, safety, and environmental coordinator for the Qarmat Ali project, said he saw soldiers with “continuous bloody noses, spitting up of blood, coughing, irritation of the noses, eyes, throat, and lungs, shortness of breath.”
Here’s the really surprising and shocking thing. I mean really surprising and shocking. I’m willing to bet very few of you reading this are either surprised or shocked. It’s pretty much what we all expect from the Bush administration and the cronies it enriched at the expense of taxpayer money and soldiers’ and civilians’ lives. It’s not even surprising and shocking anymore.
But it sure is pathetic and disgraceful.