By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
U.S. soldiers at a military base in Iraq were provided with treated but untested wastewater for nearly two years by KBR, the giant government contractor, and may have suffered health problems as a result, according to a report released yesterday by the Pentagon's inspector general.
The inspector general said that from March 2004 to February 2006, KBR inappropriately distributed chlorinated wastewater to 5,000 U.S. troops at Camp Q-West, located at the Qayyarah West airfield about 180 miles north of Baghdad. The wastewater had been processed by a reverse-osmosis purification system and treated with chlorine before being distributed to showers and latrines on the base.
The report said that from October 2005 to June 2006, sick-call records showed 38 reported illnesses that "an attending medical official said could be attributed to water, such as skin abscesses, cellulites, skin infections and diarrhea." The report said it was impossible to definitively link the treated water to all the illnesses.
At a handful of other bases that were audited, both KBR and the military failed to perform required water-quality checks, the report stated. At Camp Ar Ramadi in Anbar province, auditors found that of 251 soldiers interviewed, 44 percent reported water provided for personal hygiene that was discolored or had an unusual odor. Four percent of the soldiers said they got sick from the water.
The audit said KBR and the military "exposed U.S. forces to unmonitored and potentially unsafe water" for washing, bathing, shaving and cleaning. It criticized the military for lax oversight at its facilities and said KBR's water quality was "not maintained in accordance with field water sanitary standards."
KBR provides water used in dining, medical and personal hygiene facilities under a multibillion-dollar service contract with the military known as LOGCAP.
KBR disagreed with the auditor's report, saying "there is no evidence that any illness resulted from water produced or transported by KBR," according to a Jan. 31 letter it sent to the inspector general. The company said in a written statement that its "production and treatment of water used by the troops and KBR's own personnel has met or exceeded all applicable military and contract standards."
Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon's press secretary, said yesterday that there was no evidence that any of the illnesses suffered by U.S. troops were directly related to the water problems and emphasized that troops are constantly reminded only to drink bottled water. "There was no widespread health risk or illness associated with the few problems identified with the water," Morrell told reporters at the Pentagon.
Inspectors said KBR and the Army have taken corrective steps to ensure adequate water quality as of November 2006.
The audit was undertaken after Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) raised concern about the quality of water provided to troops when former KBR employees told him of alleged problems. Dorgan, who pushed for the investigation, has called two hearings to try to get KBR and Army officials to answer questions about the water problems but said they denied there were any issues.
"Instead of the Pentagon taking the attitude that these are serious charges, they acted like this was part of the buddy system," Dorgan said. The company and the Pentagon acted as if "there was nothing going on here," he said. "We now know they were both in a position to know what they were saying publicly was wrong.
"KBR was not doing its job," he said. "Our troops were provided with water that didn't meet Army standards."
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.