KBR water is poisoning U.S. troops in Iraq

'My Boss at KBR: "The military is none of our f..king concern.'

(KBR, Inc. (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root) NYSEKBR is an American engineering and construction company, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, based in Houston. After Halliburton acquired Dresser Industries in 1998, Dresser's engineering subsidiary, The M. W. Kellogg Co., was merged with Halliburton's construction subsidiary, Brown & Root, to form Kellogg Brown & Root. KBR and its predecessors have won many contracts with the U.S. military during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as well as during World War II and the Vietnam War. KBR is the largest [1] non-union construction company in the United States.)

By Ben Carter

I had been operating my own company in the fall of 2004, when my 20-year-old son suddenly died from a bad combination of prescription medication. This tragedy caused my marriage to end only a month later.

With little reason to stay in Utah, I pursued the opportunity of going to work for Halliburton, because I had gotten word that Halliburton was looking for people with expertise in water purification to operate their reverse osmosis water purification units (ROWPU). I had extensive experience with a wide range of water purification technologies, and I was attracted to the idea of providing a valuable service to our soldiers serving in Iraq.

At the time, I was very excited at the prospect of being an employee once again, doing great things with providing clean safe water to U.S. troops and seeing some exciting places around the world. This was before I learned anything about Halliburton and their business practices.

If you recall, in late 2004 the war in Iraq was thought to be over after the declaration of "mission accomplished" by President George W. Bush. This impression was clearly wrong once I arrived, and I was sent to the base at Ar Ramadi.

The talk around the water coolers was that the KBR camp there was getting hit on a regular schedule with rocket and mortar fire. This was a surprise to me since my recruiter had told me that I would be sent to the green zone in Baghdad. When I arrived in Ar Ramadi I was anxious to get to work right away. It was at the air base, Al Asad, that I got my first indication that things were askew with their water treatment plants.

While waiting to finish up with orientation, I saw the first of many serious deficiencies regarding the water purification for U.S. troops. We were instructed to have the managers in our job field sign off on our time sheet to indicate we had worked 12 hours each day.

The fact of the matter was we were actually just making an appearance in order to obtain the necessary signature for the time sheets. While this weighed a little on my conscience, I concluded that this is just a transitional problem and surely when I got to my permanent station I would have more work than I could handle every day.

So, while I was at the ROWPU water plant for Al Asad air base, I was given a tour of the facility by a KBR ROWPU operator and was surprised that they were using the rejected drainage water from the ROWPU process and using it for the production of potable and non-potable water. I questioned him about this problem. He answered by saying I had a lot to learn about working here, and that replacement cost was not an issue.

A big problem with re-using the contaminated waste water is the increase of contaminants previously in the raw water. For example, let's say there are 100 giardia cysts [giardia is an infectious parasite which lodges in the intestines and causes vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and dehydration] in each gallon of raw water run into the R.O. unit.

We could reasonably expect the R.O. to remove 90% to 95% of the cysts, which would be flushed out in the reject effluent drain line. This process would therefore produce about 1/3 gallon of very high quality drinking water and the other 2/3 gallon was being sent back to the collection tank for the water plant.

When they dumped that water with a now higher concentration of cysts back into the feed water, eventually the treated drinking water and non-potable water would no longer be safe to use. Eventually that number of 100 cysts per gallon would become 1,000 per gallon, then 10,0000, etc.

This water contains a high concentration of all the dissolved contaminants present in the raw water. Heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, viruses, etc. Which is why it's considered a potentially hazardous waste product. It was this water that I personally witnessed being dumped back into the supply water at the KBR water plant in Al Asad!

The non-potable water was delivered to the base daily by KBR trucks driving outside the base to a small military ROWPU unit operating next to the Euphrates river temporarily until KBR could get their big ROWPU units on-line. I had been told that this water was chlorinated and safe by my supervisor ROWPU foreman Walter Meyers.

I eventually discovered that not to be true. Then, I found out that KBR site management was aware of this fact the entire time, knowingly compromising the safety of the thousands of troops who had water storage tanks all over the base being pumped with contaminated water each day.

After my initial shock of discovering that KBR was delivering contaminated water to the unsuspecting consumers, I immediately went to work first by decontaminating the water system and then asking questions to military personnel in charge of their ROWPU unit.

I learned that their only responsibility was for the production of potable water and they were doing a fine job of producing it for the dinning facility and the hospital. They never questioned what KBR was doing with all that water they were obtaining; they thought it was used for dust abatement on the roads on base. It was obvious to me that the military had been waiting far too patiently for KBR to get their ROWPU up and running like they had been promised.

After I finished with the emergency super chlorination and fact-finding, I prepared an incident report to provide to the KBR health and safety manager at his request. The managers made it clear to me that the whole issue was over now and I was instructed to stop e-mailing anybody outside of Ar Ramadi.

When I asked the KBR Site manager that I at least be allowed to notify the military personnel in charge of all the water tanks on the base, she told me, "The military is none of our f---king concern." This was appalling to my sense of why I was there trying to help our military.

A few days later, there was an all hands meeting where the water issue was disclosed by management. We were all told the problem was solved and there was nothing to worry about. I knew this was absolutely untrue and was also offended that they had not consulted with me prior to this announcement.

I knew that if I chose to remain loyal to KBR management and simply go along with looking the other way, a day would come when this story got out. And it would be me who would be blamed for not doing more to ensure the safety of everybody using this water on the base. It upset me to realize how shameful KBR management was about the entire situation. I decided to resign in protest and do whatever I could to alert people once I returned to the U.S.

Upon my return to the U.S. I immediately made the effort to get examined for infectious water borne diseases from my exposure to water treated by KBR at military bases in Iraq. When Halliburton placed one road block after another to make this as difficult as they possibly could for me, I realized that I had no choice but to find a lawyer who would help me through the convoluted process of filing a claim against Halliburton and KBR. Because Halliburton contested my initial request for medical testing, I was forced to go through a year and a half of waiting to go to trial before an Administrative Law court. I was finally seen by an Infectious disease specialist. My opinion is that Hallibuton uses this lengthy process to make it so difficult for former employees that they will be forced to give up on their desire to seek medical treatment.

I told the senior manager of employee labor relations that I wanted the problems corrected at all the bases and that I wanted Halliburton to notify ALL the troops who had been exposed to this water of the potential of serious health risks, and that all the troops should be tested for potential infections. He denied my request! That was the day that I provided Halliburton with my prepared press release that I intended to send out to every media outlet I could find who would start making this outrage a news story.

When I learned how long and difficult this road was going to be for me, I decided that I would do whatever it took to see this through to the end. Which meant that while I was fighting every day to be seen and treated by a doctor, I also started working around the clock to make it known exactly what Halliburton was doing to our troops and fellow citizen contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was so disturbed by what I witnessed in Iraq and the poor treatment I received from Halliburton, I knew that if I didn't do something, nobody would ever know why they got sick in Iraq or Afghanistan. Thoughts ran through my head of my friends still in Iraq.

If I didn't do something big, I would have personally been responsible for the health of all these people. My background has taught me how many millions of people who have died from contaminated water sources. This was simply a matter of conscience that I couldn't live with.

Throughout the multitude of abuses KBR has been accused of, the U.S. Department of Justice has yet to hold KBR accountable. Next week, Carter will be sharing the story of his involvement in a lawsuit waged against KBR, and his observations on why the DOJ is dragging its feet on the KBR prosecution. Stay tuned for his powerful story, which has not been published anywhere.

Meanwhile, KBR has made it clear that neither the health of its employees, nor its support of the military is a concern. The only apparent concern of the contracting company is money.

That's why Progressive Future is launching a campaign to cut off KBR until they prove that they deserve the billions of tax dollars the Department of Defense awards them each year. Tell the DoD you don't want your tax money going to fund KBR's abuses by e-mailing the DoD's Chief Financial Officer, Tina Jonas, and urging her not to pay KBR until the Justice Department completes a full, public investigation of KBR and its abuses.

*Update:* After receiving an influx of emails prompted by this story, the Cheif Financial Officer, Tina Jonas, took down or blocked her email address. This may cause you to get an error message. We are now compiling signatures for a petition, which will be sent to her.

— July 14, 2008