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TELL CITY - A former commander of Tell City-based National Guard soldiers who filed a lawsuit charging a defense contractor with allowing their exposure to a hazardous chemical died of lung cancer the day before Thanksgiving.
James C. Gentry was 52, and left behind a videotaped deposition attributing his failing health to his exposure to sodium dichromate. The retired Indiana National Guard lieutenant colonel joined a lawsuit last spring accusing defense contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root of Houston of knowing the carcinogen had been spread around the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant, but failing to warn soldiers and its own employees of the danger.
The News has published several stories about the lawsuit, which was initially filed last December in the U.S. District Court in Evansville by 15 Tell City-based soldiers who provided security for KBR employees working to restore damaged facilities in Iraq. They are collectively identified in court documents as the Tell City Guardsmen. According to a report in the Indianapolis Star Tuesday, it is one of five lawsuits alleging several hundred soldiers may have been exposed to the chemical, with others in Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The cases have garnered national media coverage and were the subject of a Senate committee hearing.
KBR has denied responsibility for the exposure, issuing a brief statement when The News contacted Heather Browne, the company's director of communications, for its initial December story. She elaborated for a Nov. 2 report by Louisville, Ky., television station WHAS, asserting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was "contractually obligated to provide KBR with a work site free of all environmental hazards and war dangers prior to KBR's commencement of work on the site." Additionally, "Once sodium-dichromate contamination at the facility was identified, KBR notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and worked with them to remediate the area," a fact sheet she provided to the station noted. "Precautions were implemented by KBR to prevent exposure to those working near the contamination."
That station's two-part report, titled "Toxic Tour of Duty," and related materials are available at www.whas 11.com.
They include Browne's detailed assertions.
Also among the materials are a statement from Mike Doyle, the attorney representing the Indiana soldiers.
"Having spent time recently with Jim Gentry and knowing what the VA has recently confirmed for the U.S. Senate about the health affects of soldiers exposed to hexavalent chromium at KBR's Qarmat Ali project, KBR's claim of no ill health effects is contrary to the known facts," he said.
KBR has been continually changing its story about what it knew and did about the dangerous chemicals, Doyle continued. "There is still no explanation, nor can there ever be, for KBR's concealing of what it knew for months from Jim Gentry and our soldiers serving in Iraq."