Military contractors sued over Iraq 'burn pits'

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 4:50 PM

An Air Force veteran and a one-time contractor who served in Iraq are suing military contractors Halliburton Co. and KBR Inc., accusing the companies of exposing them to toxic fumes by burning everything from human remains to tires in massive open-air pits.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville on Monday by former Air Force Sgt. Sean Alexander Stough and ex-contractor Charles Hicks.

"The burn pits are still going on," said attorney Susan Burke, who represents the men.

The suit names Houston-based companies KBR and Halliburton, as well as the Turkish company ERKA Ltd. The lawsuit is the latest on behalf of former military members and contract workers who claim they were exposed to toxins from burning waste in the warzone. At least 32 suits over burn pits have been filed in 32 states.

The suits have been merged for pretrial proceedings under U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus in Greenbelt, Md. Burke expects the Kentucky suit to be transferred there as well.

KBR spokeswoman Heather Brown said the company denies the allegations and follows military regulations on the disposal of waste.

A Halliburton spokesman did not immediately return a message and an e-mail to ERKA's offices in Adana, Turkey, also was not returned.

Stanton was stationed at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq until April 2006 while Hicks was at Balad Air Base north of Baghdad in 2004 and 2005. Both claim exposure to the burn pits caused multiple medical issues, including pulmonary and breathing problems.

"In many ways, I consider the burn pits like the Agent Orange of the Iraq War," said Capt. Jeffrey Cox, of the Massachusetts National Guard, who filed a lawsuit in Boston last week.

Cox, 40, of Salem, Mass., served as a combat stress social worker in an Army Reserve medical unit at Balad, the Green Zone and Camp Liberty from 2005 to 2006. He said smoke from the massive pits would often drift over the hospital and living areas at the base.

"There would be nights it would be so foggy and full of this smoke ... you could smell it and it would just go in and you would breathe it all night," said Cox, who claims he suffers from a chronic cough as a result of his exposure to the burn pits in Iraq.

Earlier this year, several members of Congress asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to investigate potential burn pit hazards. Shinseki said his agency is conducting a health study of 30,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and noted the VA "has learned important lessons from previous military conflicts" as it deals with environmental exposure questions.

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Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report