Jan. 23, 2006 -- Were thousands of troops and civilians stationed at a U.S. military base in Iraq exposed to contaminated water? The answer is yes, according to whistle-blowers testifying before Congress today.
Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., has a long-term, multibillion-dollar contract with the U.S. military to provide logistical support to personnel in Iraq. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee is looking into allegations that KBR failed to act on reports of water problems at Camp Ar Ramadi, also known as Camp Junction City, and home to more than 5,000 troops. This is not the first time the company, once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, has come under scrutiny. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who chaired today's session, held several public inquiries into Halliburton's practices last year.
Former Halliburton employees are alleging KBR provided troops at Camp Junction City with bottled water for drinking and cooking, but that internal company documents show the water provided for other purposes, such as showering, shaving and laundry, was not treated.
Ben Carter, a water-purification specialist and former Halliburton employee who worked at Camp Junction City, discovered the problem last year. A day after he ran a test on the base's water supply, Carter sent an "incident report" to Halliburton officials in a March 24, 2005, e-mail.
"It is my opinion that the water source is without question contaminated with numerous micro-organisms, including coliform bacteria," he wrote. "There is little doubt that raw sewage is routinely dumped upstream of intake much less than the required 2 mile distance. Therefore, it is my conclusion that chlorination of our water tanks, while certainly beneficial, is not sufficient protection from parasitic exposure."
Carter is one of two whistle-blowers who will testify today that they could not get Halliburton officials to inform camp residents that the water they not only bathed in but often used to make coffee or brush their teeth with did not meet certain minimum-safety standards. William Granger, the KBR official in charge of water quality in Iraq and Kuwait, wrote in a July 15, 2005, memo that the base camp population was exposed to a water source where the "level of contamination was roughly two times the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River."
Ken May, another former Halliburton employee who worked at Camp Junction City and is testifying today, said he experienced "recurring gastrointestinal problems, comparable to food poisoning," both in Iraq and after his return to the United States. He says others have experienced similar symptoms.
Halliburton spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said KBR had conducted its own inspection of the water at the site and found no evidence to substantiate the allegations made by the former employees.
"Although these individuals claim to have been adversely affected by the water at the site, they have provided no medical evidence to substantiate their claims," she said.
According to Norcross, KBR now operates its own water-treatment plant at Camp Ar Ramadi to supply potable water for hygienic uses, and bottled water is still supplied throughout Iraq for drinking and food preparation.
Halliburton is not sending any representatives to today's inquiry, and no Republicans are participating in the inquiry.