Effect Measure

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.


  1. #1 Dan
    July 15, 2008

    You admit that you never knew there is a normal range for chromium, but never acknowledge that, in fact, there is one. Chromium is necessary for certain enzymatic reactions, and is essential for function. There are different ionic forms of chromium. Chromium VI is the form linked to cancer.

  2. #2 revere
    July 15, 2008

    Dan: I was in error qbout “normal” levels. Thank you for pointing this out. However this is Chromium VI (dichromate is Cr2O72-).

  3. #3 greg
    July 15, 2008

    i believe halliburton was dick cheney’s company, not rumsfeld.

  4. #4 greg
    July 15, 2008

    greg: Of course it was. And my face is red. And I am tired.

  5. #5 daedalus2u
    July 15, 2008

    The problem with hexavalent chromium is that as Cr+6 is is quite mobile and can diffuse into cells pretty easily. Once inside cells it is reduced to trivalent chromium Cr+3, which is insoluble and binds to lots of stuff such as proteins and DNA. Trivalent chromium is used to tan leather because it binds well to proteins and inhibits their degradation. Good for long lasting leather, bad for bits of protein inside cells that need to be metabolized.

    Trivalent chromium is essentially non-toxic and is not absorbed very well. It used to be the green pigment in green soap. The regulations for chromium pollution often don’t distinguish between trivalent and hexavalent. Trivalent is essentially insoluble where hexavalent is extremely soluble.

  6. #6 phisrow
    July 15, 2008

    I’m pretty sure that this isn’t what “supporting the troops” looks like. In fact, I cannot imagine any even remotely plausible variant of this that does look like “supporting the troops”.

    How do people get away with this sort of thing?

  7. #7 K
    July 16, 2008

    If one looks at history one will find that “supporting the troops” is a myth in any war. It just is more blatant these days. Patriotism is a religion that blinds people to the truth that our young men and women don’t matter to the Masters of War.

  8. #8 Rigor
    July 16, 2008

    The devils always in the details. Is there any link to any in depth details such as manner of exposure, exposure duration, typical exposure scenarios? If the overall dose is low (high exposure but short duration???) then the overall extra carcinogenic risk may be fairly low and even difficult to pick up on with any follow-up mortality studies…

  9. #9 revere
    July 16, 2008

    Rigor: The devil is in the unnecessary exposure without consent or knowledge of the exposed. The risk may be small but the duty to care is unchanged. In this case there seems to have been no effort to consider dose one way or another. With luck, the risk to these workers and soldiers will be small (or it may not be), but we aren’t supposed to be depending on luck. You don’t expose people unnecessarily to a known carcinogen without their knowledge or consent.

  10. #10 bigdudeisme
    July 17, 2008

    What a revalation. I never thought this could happen to our soldiers. It is like making them march down to an atomic explosion site just after the bomb went off (they would never do that, would they?). Come on, get real. This sort of thing happens even when there are no wars. This happens to government workers and non-government workers all of the time and never gets reported on by the media. Corporate greed, government denial, coruption, or incompetence is always behind this. We, the small and insignificant, are always going to be exposed to cancer causing chemicals, diseases, unsafe work places, and unhealthy environments because we have no power over the Bosses. Face it, we lose, they win.

    I feel bad for these soldiers and I hope they win a big lawsuit. However, there are many who never win and get screwed all of the time. Life is not fair and we don’t get to make the rules. Get used to that. The sooner you figure out that you have no control over what happens to you, but only have control over how you’re going to react to what happens, the sooner you will find a little happiness.

    So, if it happens, let it happen and move on. Just don’t step in it if you see it coming your way.

  11. #11 themadlolscientist, FCD
    July 19, 2008


    Report: More faulty wiring at Iraqi bases

    WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) — The number of fires and deaths caused by faulty wiring at U.S. bases in Iraq is larger than the military has admitted, The New York Times (NYSE:NYT) reports.

    The newspaper said it obtained internal documents put together for congressional and Defense Department investigations on the work done by contractors. The documents show that many soldiers have suffered non-lethal shocks in their barracks, the report said.

    The work was done by KBR, one of the largest military contractors and a former subsidiary of Halliburton.

    Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth died from an electrical shock while taking a shower in January. The death focused attention on poor wiring.

    The internal documents show there were 283 electrical fires in the second half of 2006. Two soldiers died in one fire in 2006.

    One report said KBR self-reported a “systemic” problem with electrical work at bases in Iraq.

    The Times said neither the Pentagon nor KBR would comment on the details of the reports.

    Link to NYT story from 5/4/08:
    Despite Alert, Flawed Wiring Still Kills G.I.’s [sic]

    Lots more from the NYT here.

  12. #12 themadlolscientist, FCD
    July 19, 2008

    While waiting for the comment I just posted RE another piece of KBR’s bu77$#!+ (a continuing string of fires and electrocutions due to faulty wiring in US military facilities maintained by KBR in Iraq) to get through the spam filter (3 links =sigh=), here’s a Faux News commentator’s reaction to the NYT’s latest report:

    Kilmeade on NY Times report of American deaths in Iraq due to faulty wiring: “They had to find the negative story in Iraq?”

    On the July 18 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends First, co-host Gretchen Carlson reported: “Where U.S. troops sleep, eat, and relax in Iraq may be as lethal as a combat zone. The New York Times says shoddy electrical wiring has killed 13 Americans and injured many more.” Co-host Brian Kilmeade said: “They had to find the negative story in Iraq?” After Carlson reported that “[t]he Pentagon is investigating” the allegations, she said: “I love having my gallery to the left when I read the headlines.”

    When Carlson again discussed the Times story on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade said: “So, this is America bad?” Carlson did not respond, moving immediately to the next story.

    (My emphases.) WTFox????!!!!

  13. #13 Tasha
    July 21, 2008

    Wow… BigDude, I hope there is some underlying sarcasm in your comment that I’m not catching because… wow… I don’t even know how to respond.

    As Revere noted, I wasn’t surprised when I read this. This is what I’ve come to expect from life. But that doesn’t make it right and I refuse to “let it happen and move on.”

    Seriously. WTF?