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Pleasant Hills veteran alleges exposure to poison

| Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

A Pleasant Hills veteran who enlisted the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack filed a federal lawsuit Friday against Houston-based defense contractor KBR Inc., claiming it failed to warn him and other soldiers about a toxic chemical they breathed while protecting company employees in Iraq.

Glen Bootay, 30, a former combat engineer in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, says in the lawsuit that he was exposed to sodium dichromate while stationed at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in 2003. The orange, sandlike substance was used by Iraqis as an anti-corrosive in the water, which was pumped to the Iraqi oil fields.

When the soldiers arrived, the sodium dichromate had spilled from bags and had spread throughout the area, the lawsuit states.

The substance includes the toxic chemical hexavalent chromium, which rapidly damages the body's cells and becomes difficult to test for within weeks after the final exposure, according to the lawsuit.

Bootay said he didn't find out about the link between the chemical and his frequent vomiting, headaches, extreme fatigue, short-term memory loss and other ailments until July, when a friend mentioned a news article detailing other soldiers' exposure to the chemical at the same water facility.

The Defense Department hired KBR to clean up the plant and put it back into production, the lawsuit states. During daily briefings in 2003, company officials told soldiers that their frequent nose bleeds were due to dry desert air or possibly an allergic reaction to the sand, according to the lawsuit.

The company ignored initial blood tests of its own employees suggesting exposure to hexavalent chromium and reprimanded an employee who pressed company officials to warn the soldiers, the lawsuit states.

If KBR had warned him and other soldiers, they could have worn protective gear and sought early diagnosis and treatment for the exposure, according to the lawsuit.

Bootay is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against the company.

A KBR spokeswoman yesterday reissued an Aug. 3 statement by KBR claiming the company immediately notified the Army when KBR identified the chemical. Subsequent Army investigations have said the company contained the chemical and the troops didn't receive any significant exposure to the chemical, KBR says in the release.

The company had no further comment about the lawsuit.

KBR is the target of a separate lawsuit by the parents Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Shaler. The Green Beret was electrocuted on Jan. 2, 2008, in Iraq while taking a shower in a barracks the company had rehabilitated for the military under a defense contract. The company has denied liability for the water pump that shorted out and killed Maseth.

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