March 26, 2008 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Workers repairing the Qarmat Ali water injection plant in Iraq were told that the orange substance strewn around the facility was only a mild irritant – but after two-and-a-half months of exposure to it, many workers felt ill. Farah Stockman reports in the Boston Globe:

But the chemical turned out to be sodium dichromate, a substance so dangerous that even limited exposure greatly increases the risk of cancer. Soon, many of the 22 Americans and 100-plus Iraqis began to complain of nosebleeds, ulcers, and shortness of breath. Within weeks, nearly 60 percent exhibited symptoms of exposure, according to the minutes of a meeting of project managers from KBR, the Houston-based construction company in charge of the repairs.

Now, nine Americans are accusing KBR, then a subsidiary of the oil conglomerate Halliburton, of knowingly exposing them to the deadly substance and failing to provide them with the protective equipment needed to keep them safe.

KBR claims it should be protected from employee lawsuits under the Defense Base Act. Since KBR hired the workers through two subsidiaries, though – a move that let them avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll taxes – they may not qualify as an employer, and may be ineligible for that protection.

In other news:


Sun-Sentinel (Florida): In the second deadly U.S. crane accident this month, a section of a construction crane fell off at a Miami condominium construction site, killing Terrance Hennessy, 59, and Jeremy Thornsbury, 21, and injuring four other workers.

Los Angeles Times: Research suggests that night-shift workers’ disrupted circadian rhythms may “cause a kind of biological revolt, raising their likelihood of obesity, cancer, reproductive health problems, mental illness and gastrointestinal disorders.”

UPI: More than half of U.S. nurses surveyed report being bullied at work, and that’s bad news for the quality of patient care. (Also see the NYT’s Well blog’s take on workplace bullying.)

Associated Press: A report by the group Policy Matters states that a Chinese factory that supplies light bulbs for General Electric subjects many of its employees to 64-hour work weeks and mercury exposure. The company says it will investigate, and that the factory met GE’s standards in a safety and labor audit six months ago.

Occupational Hazards: John Bresland, newly confirmed chair of the Chemical Safety Hazard Investigation Board, is making it a priority to increase the number of investigations the agency conducts.

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