Another from the file of “Why Army Recruitment Is The Suckiest Job On Earth,” or “How Defense Contractors Are The Only Ones Making Money Today” comes this latest charge against Kellogg, Brown and Root, the former subsidiary of Halliburton, reaper of billions in the War on Terror.

Sixteen Indiana National Guard soldiers have sued the Houston-based defense contractor KBR, saying the company knowingly allowed them to be exposed to a toxic chemical in Iraq in 2003.

The unit is based in Tell City, Indiana. The soldiers were providing security for KBR during repairs of a water treatment plant in southern Iraq shortly after the US invasion. The suit claims the site was contaminated for six months by hexavalent chromium, “one of the most potent carcinogens” known to man. It alleges that KBR knew the plant was contaminated but concealed the danger from civilian workers and soldiers.

Civilian contractors working for KBR testified at a congressional hearing in June that they experienced symptoms of chromium exposure. The lawsuit says, “The Tell City Guardsmen were repeatedly told that there was no danger on site, even after KBR managers knew that blood testing of American civilians exposed onsite confirmed elevated chromium levels.”

The toxic chemical “can cause severe damage to the liver and kidneys, depress the immune system” and is known to cause birth defects and cancer, particularly lung cancer, the lawsuit said. The cancer can take years to develop. Some of the soldiers who served at the site now have respiratory system tumors. The suit seeks reimbursement for medical costs, monitoring for cancer and other health problems and unspecified monetary damages.

Michael Doyle, the lawyer for the soldiers, describing the alleged contamination on Democracy Now! yesterday:

This stuff—and folks may have heard about hexavalent chromium in the Erin Brockovich, where they had relatively small amounts, very serious consequences. There were bags of this stuff. And at least some of the testing showed 1.9 percent of the soil was actually sodium dichromate around this site. And despite being paid well to do a site assessment; to do this project; to make sure that the folks out there, the civilians and the soldiers, were protected; they basically just kept ignoring it.

National Guardsman Jody Aistrop described their symptoms:

The main one was the bloody nose. Your eyes would burn. You would get a rash, like on your arms or your legs. And actually, my rash just cleared up like three months ago. And it turned into lesions once I got home.

KBR says it plans to “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit, denying the “the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition.”