PORTLAND, Ore. -- A federal judge in Portland refused to throw out a lawsuit by a group of Oregon National Guard soldiers against defense contractor KBR.
The soldiers claim KBR knew they were being exposed to a toxic chemical as the soldiers protected KBR workers in Iraq, but did nothing to warn them.
The company denies that, and in a written statement argues as soon as it became aware of sodium dichromate at the site, it warned the Army Corps of Engineers and posted signs around the site in English and Arabic.
But Rocky Bixby, who lives in Portland and is now honorably discharged from the Oregon National Guard says no one warned him at all.
Not once while I was there did anybody ever tell me the site had hazardous chemicals on it, Bixby said.
Sodium dichromate is a known cancer causer in humans. The Iraqi's had used it to stop corrosion of pipes at the water plant.
KBR's statement argues that medical data does not support the soldiers claims.
The U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine conducted tests on soldiers to determine whether their red blood cells showed abnormal levles of chromium hexavalent. The Center's conclusion: no soldier encountered a significant inhalation exposure while guarding the facility, the statement read.
But Bixby says he was never tested.
And soldiers who guarded the facility have died. James Gentry developed a rare lung cancer and died. David Moore developed lung disease and died too.
Rocky Bixby says he's lost 40-percent of his lung capacity as a result of the exposure at the plant. He says he never saw a warning sign, or told his men to wear their gas masks. It haunts him.
I feel like I could have protected my soldiers over there --I could have prevented this from happening if the, company responsible for this would have just told us that we were being exposed to these chemicals. I could have protected my soldiers. I feel very guilty for that, Bixby said.