A ray of light amongst a curtain of shadows.
KBR and Halliburton – two major U.S. military contractors – can be sued for the health impacts of trash incineration on U.S. soldiers who served in the war in Iraq, according to a new court decision that allows a series of 57 lawsuits against the companies to go forward.
The two companies have been paid some $40 billion for services provided to troops serving in the U.S. War on Terror throughout Central Asia and the Middle East in countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to Kuwait and Uzbekistan. (Most of the contracts were implemented by KBR which was a subsidiary of Halliburton until 2007 when it was spun off into a separate company)
Under the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract, KBR and Halliburton operated ten acre wide burn pits 24 hours a day on U.S. military bases throughout Iraq until the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act officially banned them. They were used to incinerate “plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, dead animals, and even human body parts.” Government contractors, troops and Iraqi civilians allege that they were exposed to toxic carcinogens and chemicals by breathing the pit’s fumes and dust.
Last February Judge Roger Titus in Maryland threw out the lawsuits, after he agreed with the two companies that their work should be immune from prosecution since they were working for the U.S. government.
But in March, a panel of three judges in Richmond, Virginia, over-ruled Titus. KBR was entitled to immunity “only if it adhered to the terms of the contract with the government,” Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote. “Accordingly, we hold that the district court erred in finding that KBR was entitled to derivative sovereign immunity at this time and vacate the court’s decision.”
The court order is a breakthrough for the plaintiffs who have claimed in a consolidated lawsuit that KBR “violated military directives in its performance of waste disposal and water treatment services.”