Back in March, a Boston Globe article by Farah Stockman broke the news that workers who’d been cleaning up the Qarmat Ali water injection plant in Iraq had been exposed to something that they were told was only a mild irritant – but which was, in fact, the dangerous substance sodium dichromate. After that report, Senator Byron Dorgan began investigating the situation, and chaired a Democratic Policy Committee hearing last week on the experiences of soldiers assigned to guard the plant. Stockman reports on the hearing testimony:
“These soldiers were bleeding from the nose, spitting blood,” said Danny Langford, an equipment technician from Texas brought to work at the Qarmat Ali Water treatment plant in 2003. “They were sick.”
“Hundreds of American soldiers at this site were contaminated” while guarding the plant, Langford said, including members of the Indiana National Guard.
Langford is one of nine Americans who accuse KBR, the lead contractor on the Qarmat Ali project and one of the largest defense contractors in Iraq, of knowingly exposing them to sodium dichromate, an orange, sandlike chemical that is a potentially lethal carcinogen. Specialists say even short-term exposure to the chemical can cause cancer, depress an individual’s immune system, attack the liver, and cause other ailments.
This hearing is “one among several organized to hold contractors accountable for alleged malfeasance in Iraq.”
In other news:
Charlotte Observer: Doctors who see patients injured on the job report being pressured by the patients’ employers to respond to and classify the injuries in ways that will not affect companies’ injury records.
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: In July 2005, a 56-year-old agricultural worker who came from Mexico to the US on a temporary H2A visa died of a heat stroke while harvesting tobacco in North Carolina. In the U.S. between 1992 and 2006, 423 worker deaths from heat exposure were reported. (via Effect Measure)
Washington Post: Under a bill that passed the House by a wide margin, federal employees would receive greater family leave benefits, including four weeks of paid parental leave after a birth or adoption.
Chicago Tribune: Despite improvements in recent years, the Veterans Administration still falls short when it comes to caring for female veterans. Problems range from insufficient OB/GYN services to difficulties getting help for military sexual trauma, something with which one in five female veterans seeking care has been diagnosed with.
New York Times (op-ed): Poor conditions for banana workers in several Latin American countries are part of the equation that keeps the price we pay for bananas so low. That equation may change as a banana fungus makes its way around the globe.