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Halliburton, KBR sued for alleged ill effects of 'burn pits'

  • Story Highlights
  • 6 lawsuits filed Tuesday; 3 more are scheduled to be filed Wednesday
  • Suits filed on behalf of veterans, contractors, their families
  • Suits blame health problems, deaths on emissions from burn pits
  • No long-term danger from smoke from Balad Air Force Base pit, military said in 2008
By Adam Levine
CNN Pentagon Supervising Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A series of civil lawsuits against defense contractors KBR and its former parent company Halliburton claims the companies endangered the health of U.S. troops and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan by unsafely burning massive amounts of garbage on U.S. bases.

Burn pits produced thick black smoke and toxic fumes, according to plaintiff Richard Guilmette.

Burn pits produced thick black smoke and toxic fumes, according to plaintiff Richard Guilmette.

Six lawsuits were filed Tuesday and three more are scheduled to be filed Wednesday in state courts on behalf of current and former military personnel, private contractors and families of men who allegedly died because of exposure to the fumes from the burning garbage. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also are seeking to file a class-action suit.

The lawsuits are the first coordinated effort by plaintiffs to extract damages for the claimed health effects from the burn pits. The military has acknowledged the concerns but said its own test of the most notorious case, the Balad Air Force Base burn pit, found there is no prolonged health risk for those who were exposed for a year or less to the fumes.

But the military's report on the fumes also acknowledged it cannot account for all the items burned in the Balad pit. At one point the open pit burned everything from plastics and food to medical waste, with jet fuel used as an accelerant at times.

The lawsuits, filed Tuesday in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New York and North Carolina, seek damages "in an amount sufficient to strip defendants of all of the revenue and profits" earned. KBR and Halliburton were paid millions of dollars to oversee the waste management for the military.

One plaintiff, Richard Guilmette of Enterprise, Alabama, said he lived in a tent close to a burn pit while deployed by the Army to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Guilmette's suit describes winds blowing "the thick black smoke and toxic fumes from the burn pit" into the tent where he lived from March 2004 to March 2005. The suit claims Guilmette suffered a series of health problems, from severe chest pain and diarrhea, to asthma, sleep apnea and debilitating migraine headaches.

A lawsuit filed for Michael Moore of Hinesville, Georgia, claims the plaintiff was exposed to "toxic fumes" while deployed to the Balad Air Force Base in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. Moore lived "less than 50 yards" from the burn pit, according to the suit.

His suit claims he developed a chronic cough while there that woke him with coughing and choking. Ultimately he was evacuated and diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and breathing problems. According to the filing, Moore previously "was in excellent health and physical shape, running six miles every day."

In all there are 70 plaintiffs who will file suits, according to lead attorney Elizabeth Burke. The lawsuits filed Tuesday and Wednesday represent 21 plaintiffs, with an addition 50 or so suits to still be filed, according to Burke.

"They sought profit in lieu of safety," Burke said of the KBR and Halliburton.

KBR had not reviewed the complaints and would not comment to CNN on the specific allegations.

"The general assertion, however, that KBR knowingly harmed soldiers or contractors is unfounded," KBR said in a statement given to CNN. "The safety and security of all employees and those the company serves remains KBR's top priority."

A Halliburton spokeswoman told CNN the company had not been served with the suits and therefore could not comment on any of the allegations directly. However, spokeswoman Cathy Mann said if the allegations are in regard to KBR activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, then Halliburton believes it has been improperly named.

"We would expect Halliburton to be dismissed from the suits as Halliburton would have no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the actions alleged. Further, it would be inappropriate for Halliburton to comment on the merits of a matter affecting only the interest of KBR," Mann said in an e-mail to CNN.

All About Iraq WarU.S. Department of DefenseAfghanistan

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