Man says cancer warning got him fired

WASHINGTON Ed Blacke, a former safety inspector for Houston-based contracting giant KBR, says his exposure to sodium dichromate in 2003 gave him chronic thyroid problems and early signs of cancer. He said supervisors initially ignored his warnings about contamination at the Qarmat Ali water injection plant near Basra, Iraq.

"In my mind, it was criminally negligent of (the company) to make a decision to continue to expose personnel to sodium dichromate poisoning," the Bella Vista, Ark., man told a congressional panel Friday.

KBR is formerly a subsidiary of Houston-based oilfield services giant Halliburton Co. It was not represented at the Democratic Policy Committee oversight hearing. The committee created by Senate Democratic leaders is comprised solely of Democrats and has no legislative authority.

A committee spokesman said the company, the largest U.S. contractor in Iraq, refused an invitation. A KBR spokeswoman later said safety and security of its employees is a top priority.

"We take issue with the assertion that KBR knowingly harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition," spokeswoman Heather Browne said in a statement. "Further, the company in no way condones any action that would compromise the safety of those we serve."

Sodium dichromate, a reddish-orange dust, was strewn all over the ground and equipment at the plant, Blacke said. He told the panel he thought Houston-based KBR ignored the danger of the chemical so as not to slow down its work.

"They would have been able to complete the contract on time and under budget," he said. "They would have made money on the contract."

Nine workers have sued the company because of exposure to the toxic dust at Qarmat Ali.

Another worker, Danny Langford of Texas City, Texas, said the dust caked "on your hands, in your eyes, on your clothes, just everywhere."

Langford and other workers blamed the chemical for breathing difficulties, bloody noses and sore throats while in Iraq. Like Blacke, Langford said he has experienced chronic troubles from the contaminant.

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