November 9, 2009

Because we've outsourced so many functions that used to be handled by federal and/or military employees, we've also lost control of outcomes like this:

Contractors working for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan are fouling the nests of U.S. soldiers with pollution, poisoning the troops in the very bases meant to be their sanctuaries.

That's the central allegation in a new set of lawsuits filed in Nashville and elsewhere across the country. The legal actions name as defendants the controversial contracting firm KBR Inc. (formerly Kellogg Brown and Root), as well as Halliburton Co., of which KBR used to be a subsidiary, and a Turkish general contracting firm, ERKA Ltd.

"These for-profit corporations callously exposed and continue to expose soldiers and others to toxic smoke, ash and fumes," says the complaint filed in Nashville on Friday, which asks for damages on behalf of two Tennessee soldiers. "These exposures are causing a host of serious diseases, increased risk of serious diseases in the future, death and increased risk of death."

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, describes "burn pits" at U.S. bases in both military theaters that contain "every type of waste imaginable." Reading like a postmodern version of Jonathan Swift's Description of a City Shower, the catalog of rubbish in the pits includes:

"Tires, lithium batteries, Styrofoam, paper, wood, rubber, petroleum-oil-lubricating products, metals, hydraulic fluids, munitions boxes, medical waste, biohazard materials (including human corpses), medical supplies (including those used during smallpox inoculations), paints, solvents, asbestos insulation, items containing pesticides, polyvinyl chloride pipes, animal carcasses, dangerous chemicals, and hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles."

"Flames shoot hundreds of feet into the sky" as the huge pits are set ablaze, the Nashville lawsuit claims.

Noting that "burning plastics emit dioxins, which are known to cause cancer," the complaint accuses the defendants of negligence, battery and inflicting emotional distress. Saying an estimated 100,000 soldiers and contract personnel may have been harmed by the smoke from the pits, the plaintiffs want the court to force KBR and the other companies to cover future medical expenses and pay other compensatory damages.

I wonder who the human corpses were? And why were they burned?

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