Members of the National Guard who were stationed at the Qarmat Ali water plant in Iraq in 2003 were exposed to sodium dichromate, in the form of orange dust that coated the area and blew through the air. During their deployment and even after returning home, the troops reported problems ranging from nausea and nosebleeds to breathing difficulties and coughing up blood. Several of them have filed lawsuits against KBR, the contractor in charge of repairing the facility.

Andrew Clevenger reports in the Charleston Gazette that US Senator Jay Rockefeller of Virginia, who has been concerned about this issue, has received a letter from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki pledging to provide examinations and medical monitoring to soldiers who served at the plant. This will include regular chest radiographs and pulmonary-function testing. Shinseki informed Rockefeller that 128 soldiers from West Virginia and 547 from Indiana, Oregon, and South Carolina have been identified.

In other news:

EHS Today: In 2004, foreman James Speegle reported safety problems at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; two days later, the contracting company in charge of the plant fired him. Now, a Department of Labor appeals panel has ruled that the company, Stone & Webster, violated federal whistleblower law.

NPR: An essay by active Air Force Col. Om Prakash published in an official Pentagon journal advocates for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays and lesbians in the military, arguing that it harms cohesiveness and morale.

Occupational Health & Safety: In 2008, 118 firefighters died on duty, according to the latest report from the US Fire Administration; 45 of those deaths were from heart attacks.

New York Times: According to a University of Michigan study commissioned by the NFL, former NFL players between the ages of 30 and 49 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other memory-related diseases at a rate that’s 19 times the normal rate for men in that age range.

Greater Greater Washington: After three Metro track workers were killed in 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board issued multiple recommendations for improving safety conditions for workers in the DC-area transit system. But it’s unclear how much progress has been made, and two more workers have been struck and killed on the rails in recent months.