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Investigate Army's role.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Pentagon's inspector general should investigate the U.S. Defense Department's failure to aggressively respond to the exposure of Oregon Army National Guard members and other troops to hazardous chemicals in Iraq.

The Army's response to soldiers exposed to hexavalent chromium Hexavalent chromium or Cr(VI) compounds are those which contain the element chromium in the +6 oxidation state. Chromates are often used as pigments for photography, and in pyrotechnics, dyes, paints, inks, and plastics.  - the deadly poison made famous by the movie "Erin Brockovich" - has been inadequate and emits more than a faint whiff of cover-up. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has compared it to the government's denial-driven, foot-dragging response as the health effects of Agent Orange emerged after the Vietnam War Vietnam War, conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. .

Four soldiers, including a former Oregon National Guard member, testified Monday before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. Shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003, they were deployed with their units to protect civilian workers repairing a water pumping plant in southern Iraq.

Rocky Bixby of Hillsboro was one of at least 48 Oregon soldiers who spent several weeks during the spring and summer of 2003 protecting workers of Houston-based defense contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, which had been hired to restore the Qarmat Ali water plant.

While stationed at the water plant, members of the Oregon, West Virginia and Indiana National Guards were exposed to a powdered form of hexavalent chromium, a highly toxic highly toxic Occupational medicine adjective Referring to a chemical that 1. Has a median lethal dose–LD50 of ≤ 50 mg/kg when administered orally to 200-300 g albino rats 2.  industrial compound which, if inhaled in even minuscule amounts, greatly increases the risk of lung cancer lung cancer, cancer that originates in the tissues of the lungs. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States in both men and women. Like other cancers, lung cancer occurs after repeated insults to the genetic material of the cell. . The troops' exposure came to light only after a KBR KBR Kellogg, Brown and Root
KBr Potassium Bromide
KBR Key-Based Routing
KBR Kota Bharu, Malaysia - Sultan Ismail Petra (Airport Code)
KBR Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België / Bibliothèque royale de Belgique
 employee testified last year before the same Senate committee that he had been sent home after expressing concerns about a toxic orange powder strewn strew  
tr.v. strewed, strewn or strewed, strew·ing, strews
1. To spread here and there; scatter: strewing flowers down the aisle.

2.
 throughout the plant.

But the troops stationed at the facility were not aware of the contamination until the Pentagon and state military departments began mailing notifications earlier this year.

Bixby recalled at Monday's hearing that the toxic powder was everywhere in the plant. "It was thick and crusted over the sand ... The sand, dust and orange powder constantly got on our skin, in our eyes and in our mouths and noses," he said.

Herman Gibb, former associate director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the U.S. government, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1970 to reduce and control air and water pollution, noise pollution, and radiation and to ensure the safe handling and  and a leading expert on hexavalent chromium, told the committee that soldiers were exposed to 80 to 200 times the federal limit for worker exposure to sodium dichromate, which contains hexavalent chromium and which Gibb called one of the most potent human carcinogens Carcinogens
Substances in the environment that cause cancer, presumably by inducing mutations, with prolonged exposure.

Mentioned in: Colon Cancer, Rectal Cancer
. Gibb told senators that an Army study and the notification letter sent to troops minimized the danger of their exposure.

The Pentagon's inspector general should find out why the Army failed to respond aggressively after it learned of the contamination. As for KBR, it appears the contractor was aware of a contamination risk at the time U.S. troops were stationed at the plant. On Monday, Dorgan read a KBR memo dated August 2003 that detailed the extent of the contamination and warned that "people are potentially exposed to something that may be very dangerous."

Despite that warning, the soldiers said they had no idea of the danger and were not advised to use masks and other available protective gear. At the time, their complaints of nosebleeds, headaches, skin sores and other health problems were dismissed as allergies to desert dust.

Bixby told lawmakers that he suffered from a chronic cough chronic cough,
n health condition characterized by either a lingering cough or a recurring cough lasting more than a month.
 and shortness of breath Shortness of Breath Definition

Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a feeling of difficult or labored breathing that is out of proportion to the patient's level of physical activity.
 after returning from Iraq. While he used to run miles with ease, he was unable to walk from his house to his car without losing his breath. After receiving his notification letter earlier this year, Bixby, a nonsmoker, told senators that he got a chest X-ray chest x-ray,
n an examination of the chest using x-rays. Routinely performed in patients complaining of chest pain to rule out respiratory or heart disease.

chest X-ray Chest film, see there
 that revealed a node on his lung.

Other soldiers who were stationed at the plant have reported long-term health problems. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who serves on the policy committee, noted that one Indiana National Guard member already has died from lung disease lung disease Pulmonary disease Pulmonology Any condition causing or indicating impaired lung function Types of LD Obstructive lung disease–↓ in air flow caused by a narrowing or blockage of airways–eg, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis; .

Bixby is one of dozens of former National Guard members who have sued KBR. Meanwhile, Oregon and other states have acted on their own to provide financial assistance to Guard members who developed cancer after their exposure to toxins in Iraq.

More needs to be done, starting with an inspector general's investigation into the Defense Department's failure not only to protect troops from toxic chemicals at Qarmat Ali, but to come swiftly to their assistance after their exposure came to light.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 6, 2009
Words:710
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