Senator condemns Army response to unsafe water in Iraq

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., charged Monday that the Pentagon failed to stop contractor KBR Inc., from supplying unsafe water to U.S. troops in Iraq and that an Army general last year misled senators about the problem. "I would have thought the Pentagon would have been furious and have taken immediate action," Dorgan said Monday. "Now we know that is not case."

A March 7 report by the Defense Department inspector general, released Monday by Dorgan, says that the former subsidiary of Halliburton Co. did not follow Army standards for maintaining water at three of four bases inspected by the IG: Camp Ar Ramadi, Camp Q-West and Camp Victor. KBR used chlorinated wastewater in troop showers, according to the report. KBR corrected some problems by November 2006, the report says, but quality-control problems persisted at two sites. "Water suppliers exposed U.S. forces to unmonitored and potentially unsafe water," the report says. The water involved was used for cleaning, not drinking. The report says there is no way to tell if contaminated water caused disease but notes some soldiers who used the unmonitored water experienced skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses.

Dorgan requested the report after whistleblowers, including KBR employees, disclosed problems with water quality and troops complained about discolored, odorous water. Allegations surfaced at a 2006 hearing held by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. Dorgan charged the Army has continued to rely on assurances from KBR that there was no problem. "All the Army had to do was talk to the troops -- which is what the inspector general eventually did," Dorgan said. "No one seemed to give a damn," he added. Dorgan said the IG's report states that the IG informed the Army of many of its findings on March 31. But at an April 19 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Maj. Gen. Jerome Johnson, head of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, said in response to questions about the water at Camp Ar Ramadi that there was no issue with it and he did not know of problems elsewhere.

Dorgan said he is writing Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ask why the Pentagon did not respond more aggressively to problems cited by the IG. The issue will be raised in upcoming Senate Appropriations Committee hearings on contracting in Iraq, Dorgan said. In a statement, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said if the military continues to rely on contractors, "we are going to have to do a much better job supervising their activities."

A Pentagon spokesman said he could not comment on Johnson's testimony and said Dorgan's criticism of the Army and Pentagon is not supported by the IG report. "I don't think anything that supports that is in this audit report," he said, noting the report states corrective actions were taken. KBR said its water treatment "has met or exceeded all applicable military and contract standards," and disagreed with many of IG's findings, according to the Associated Press.

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