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Whistleblowers' stomach-curdling story:
Halliburton serves contaminated water to troops

20 Sept. 2005

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 (HalliburtonWatch.org) -- Outrage overflowed on Capitol Hill this summer when members of Congress learned that Halliburton's dining halls in Iraq had repeatedly served spoiled food to unsuspecting troops. "This happened quite a bit," testified Rory Mayberry, a former food manager with Halliburton's KBR subsidiary.

But the outrage apparently doesn't end with spoiled food. Former KBR employees and water quality specialists, Ben Carter and Ken May, told HalliburtonWatch that KBR knowingly exposes troops and civilians to contaminated water from Iraq's Euphrates River. One internal KBR email provided to HalliburtonWatch says that, for "possibly a year," the level of contamination at one camp was two times the normal level for untreated water.

"I discovered the water being delivered from the Euphrates for the military was not being treated properly and thousands were being exposed daily to numerous pathogenic organisms," Carter informed HalliburtonWatch.

Carter worked at Camp Ar Ramadi, located 70 miles west of Baghdad in the notoriously violent Sunni Triangle, but he says water contamination problems exist throughout Iraq's military camps. He helped manage KBR's Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), which is a water treatment system designed to produce potable (drinkable) water from a variety of raw water sources such as lakes, lagoons and rivers. ROWPU is supposed to provide the troops with clean water from Iraq's Euphrates River.

William Granger of KBR Water Quality for Iraq reached this conclusion in an email after investigating Carter's complaint: "Fact: We exposed a base camp population (military and civilian) to a water source that was not treated. The level of contamination was roughly 2x the normal contamination of untreated water from the Euphrates River." Granger admitted that the contamination was "most likely � ongoing through the entire life" of the camp, but that he was "not sure if any attempt to notify the exposed population was ever made."

In a company email last March to his superior, Harold "Mo" Orr, coordinator for Halliburton's health and safety department said, "We have determined that the military (Command Surgeon) has not given any kind of signoff on the military ROWPU (As required by the military SOP) nor has KBR ever inquired about this before. This was only discovered thru the investigation of possible contamination by Ben Carter who is right now in charge of the ROWPU."

Orr's request for further investigation into the matter was overruled by KBR's health, safety and environmental manager, Jay Delahoussaye, who said in an email that the initial health hazard turned out to be "erroneous" and that "corrective measures" were taken and "No KBR personnel were exposed to contaminated water."

But Granger responded with another email, saying it was unclear whether corrective action had been taken. He said it was "highly likely" that someone from KBR finally started chlorinating the water this year, but that "there is no documentation" to confirm it. Nor is there documentation to show KBR is testing the water three times per day as required by the military, Granger said.

Nonetheless, Carter said chlorination is not enough to remedy the problem since raw sewage is routinely dumped less than two miles from the water intake location, in violation of military policy and procedure. "Chlorination of water tanks, while certainly beneficial, is not sufficient protection from parasitic exposure," Carter said in an email to Granger, who is still employed with KBR.

According to Carter, Granger had written a scathing, 21-page report to KBR management about water quality at Ar Ramadi. Carter says the report proves the company's "incompetence and willful negligence" in protecting the water supply.

Granger has refused to comply with a company gag order and is convinced his employment will be terminated soon, says Carter. In an email to Ken May, Granger said, "I stand by all of my email's (internal or not). I have consistently been dogged in my approach that protection of the soldier, contractor, and subcontractor is paramount." In another email to Carter, Granger said he would support Carter's legal actions and that he's looking into legal protections for himself as a whistleblower. "I won't turn over any documents until I understand what is protected or not ... but know that if called to testify or such that I will disclose all that is in the report verbally," he said in the email.

Carter is in the process of obtaining worker's compensation from Halliburton over an illness he says was caused by the contaminated water.

Soldiers are often evacuated out of Iraq for non-combat related illnesses. The Association of Military Surgeons found that 9.1 percent of soldiers evacuated in 2003 suffered from problems of the digestive system; another 6.4 percent had nervous system disorders; 6.1% suffered urological problems; and 8.3 percent suffered from unknown illnesses.

In the early months of the war, the Army sent a team of investigators to probe a series of mysterious illnesses. Earlier this month, Canada reported an outbreak of gastrointestinal problems among soldiers serving in Afghanistan, where KBR is also involved.

Halliburton spokesperson, Melissa Norcross, told HalliburtonWatch that the water contamination allegations are "unfounded" and that "KBR has conducted its own inspection of the water at the site in question and has found no evidence to substantiate the allegations made by these former employees."

Norcross confirmed that non-potable (non-drinkable) water "was produced" at Ar Ramadi at the time of the camp's inception until May 2005, but that the military approved its use for showering and doing laundry. "During that time, bottled water was used for drinking and food preparation," she said.

Carter and May agree that KBR supplies bottled water for drinking, but that it's "absolutely untrue" that it's used for food preparation. Moreover, they never observed any posted signs or notices informing personnel not to drink the tap water, a possible sign of corporate negligence.

Of a possible sign of things to come, May said he observed an unsecured potable water tank used for food preparation at a dining facility. The bolts used to tighten the lid over the tank were missing. In an email to HalliburtonWatch, May said the tank was located in an open area "for anyone to enter, including the enemy." He worries that "contaminants/poisons could be introduced which could result in mass casualties."

Additionally, May said he and another KBR employee witnessed water being filled through an open lid on top of the water tank, thereby rendering the once potable water as non-potable. "Water is required to be pumped into the tank through a male/female hose hook-up with no direct exposure to the air," May said. Failure to do so would result in exposing the camp population to non-potable water. May and Carter say they notified KBR's quality assurance and quality control department, including Chief of Services Warren Smith, but no remedial action was taken.

Today, Norcross says KBR supplies clean drinking water throughout Camp Ar Ramadi, but that "For drinking and food preparation, KBR continues to supply bottled water throughout Iraq." She insists that "there have been no documented cases of unusual illnesses or health conditions" at Ar Ramadi.

But a private company email supplied to HalliburtonWatch appears to conflict with Halliburton's public denial. Halliburton public relations official, Jennifer Dellinger, wrote to her colleagues that Faith Sproul, who works in Halliburton's workers' compensation department, "does believe that initial tests showed some contamination to be present." As a result, Dellinger wrote, Sproul was concerned that former employees might "make a claim for disability" and "we could receive some queries on this if these former employees decide to go to the press." So, Dellinger asked her public relations colleagues, "Can you run some traps on this and see what you can find out?"

When HalliburtonWatch asked about this internal email and its apparent confirmation of Carter and May's allegations, Norcross responded by saying the email was written last July, prior to the company's final determination that no contamination occurred.

Carter resigned two weeks prior to Ken May, discovering what he said was "unsafe water and pressure to cover it up." "I tried to correct the problem, only to be blackballed by management and I eventually left this employment," Carter told HalliburtonWatch. Carter and May cite "poor company behavior patterns and practices from Site Management as the tell-tale sign of disaster looming around the corner if intervention is not taken very soon."

KBR's health and safety manager at Ar Ramadi, Harold Orr, also resigned because of the water issue but has remained silent, says May.

Carter and May also describe instances where a site manager urged everyone to conceal contamination information from the company's health and safety department. According to May, statements were made in an "All Hands Meeting" by then Site Manger Suzanne-Raku Williams, Warren Smith, and acting Medic Phillip Daigle suggesting that if anyone became sick, it was probably from the handles from the port-a-lets toilets and not from water contamination. In response, Ken May resigned out of disgust and frustration. In an email to superiors, he chastised KBR for what he said was "retaliatory behavior from dishonest site management" and "inaction" that "compromised" camp safety and the health of the people who work there. He expressed concern over "the lack of oversight from the outside to investigate, redirect, and periodically monitor" the water to assure a healthy workplace. "Unfortunately, because of the lack of regards for my wellbeing [and] no response or action from KBR/Halliburton I have no recourse other than to resign," he said in an email to his supervisor.

Carter and May's experience is not uncommon at KBR, where former employees have described instances of being ostracized or terminated if they dare to speak out against company negligence, mismanagement or malfeasance. Other former KBR employees have testified about being fired or urged to quit or conceal information after pointing out low-cost solutions to simple problems. But, a cynic might note, allowing small problems to grow into expensive ones through purposeful neglect actually boosts KBR's profits as there is a profit guarantee of 1% to 3% over cost for the LOGCAP III contract. As with all of KBR's "cost plus" military contracts, the more expensive the problem, the greater the fee paid to KBR from the government. So, it would seem there is actually a built-in incentive not to prevent small problems or reward whistleblower employees like Carter and May when neglect will result in a costlier problem down the road and more profits for KBR.

Update: The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held hearings on the water contamination issue on January 23, 2006. Click the links for more information....

Transcript of the hearing

Statement of Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan

Ken May's testimony

Ben Carter's testimony

Erik D. Olson testimony (Natural Resources Defense Council)

Update: Pentagon to investigate Halliburton's water contamination in Iraq