National Guardsmen from Oregon suing contractor after illness

A group of 12 Oregon National Guardsmen claim that a contractor exposed them to dangerous chemicals without their knowledge, later causing them to become sick and disabled. The plaintiffs filed a negligence and fraud lawsuit with a federal court in Portland, requesting unspecified damages compensating them for the personal injury sustained from their exposure to sodium dichromate, which is known to contain "a highly potent carcinogen."

The alleged exposure occurred when the guardsmen were providing security while the defendant organized the restoration of a contaminated water treatment plant in Iraq in 2003. The plaintiffs' attorney said that the plant contained as many as 700 bags of sodium dichromate, with some of the substance blowing around the facility in powder form.

The claim reports that some of guardsmen began suffering nose bleeds and other symptoms, which were dismissed by the contractor as "an effect of the dry desert air." However, the guardsmen claim that managers with the contractors later wore full protective gear while inspecting the facility. The attorney argued that the defendant knew about the issue "before any employee went on this site." Several of the guardsmen say they have developed illnesses or disabilities following their return to Oregon, and must live with a heightened risk for several types of cancer.

The defendant has not denied that sodium dichromate was present in large amounts at the plant, but argued that the amount of exposure the guardsmen had with the chemical was "very unlikely" to result in long-lasting health problems. Furthermore, it contends that its managers did in fact tell the plaintiffs about the sodium dichromate. The contractor's attorney explained he was confident that "the evidence will show that the [defendant] openly, honestly and repeatedly communicated" the risks posed by working around the chemical.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Oregon guardsmen say were knowingly exposed to toxic chemicals in Iraq," Teresa Carson, Oct. 10, 2012

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