If you saw the movie Erin Brockovich, you know what exposure to a toxic chromium substance can do to the human body. And what lengths a company might go to to cover up exposure to a toxic chemical if, indeed, they knew about it.

Because knowingly exposing your employees to a highly carcinogenic chemical is not only unconscionable, it’s also illegal in most jurisdictions.

Enter KBR in Iraq. And a hearing last Friday with the Democratic Policy Committee. Sen. Dorgan and Sen. Whitehouse were visibly disgusted at the facts ascertained during this hearing (you can watch other video clips here beyond the one at left, and you can watch the full hearing here).

War profiteering is bad enough, but if a company was knowingly exposing these workers and soldiers to a carcinogenic substance, while cleverly avoiding federal taxes and knowing their employees likely would have little to no legal recourse for worker’s compensation? After being doled out a sweet no-bid contract to begin with?

Infuriating doesn’t begin to cover it…but Shock Doctrine sure as hell does. I want to say a personal thank you to Sen. Dorgan and Sen. Whitehouse for their work on this issue, especially Sen. Dorgan who, along with Rep. Waxman, has been a voice in the wilderness exposing corruption and fraud among war profiteers.

KBR’s employees and American military personnel at the facility are all alleged to have been exposed to sodium dichromate:

…"These soldiers were bleeding from the nose, spitting blood," said Danny Langford, an equipment technician from Texas brought to work at the Qarmat Ali Water treatment plant in 2003. "They were sick."

"Hundreds of American soldiers at this site were contaminated" while guarding the plant, Langford said, including members of the Indiana National Guard.

Langford is one of nine Americans who accuse KBR, the lead contractor on the Qarmat Ali project and one of the largest defense contractors in Iraq, of knowingly exposing them to sodium dichromate, an orange, sandlike chemical that is a potentially lethal carcinogen. Specialists say even short-term exposure to the chemical can cause cancer, depress an individual’s immune system, attack the liver, and cause other ailments.

Yesterday’s hearing – one among several organized to hold contractors accountable for alleged malfeasance in Iraq – was chaired by Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat. "Hundreds of US troops, who may not even know of their exposure to sodium dichromate that could one day result in a horrible disease, cancers, and death," he said….

Langford and his former colleagues have said KBR supervisors initially told them the chemical was a "mild irritant." The company, however, eventually acknowledged that sodium dichromate was a potentially deadly substance and moved to clean up the site….

Read the entire article in the Boston Globe. The whole thing. And then contemplate this: KBR allegedly skirts federal taxes on any of its workers in Iraq because it claims Cayman Islands headquarters for shell corporations created expressly to take advantage of tax shelter loopholes.

The sole point where this becomes remotely amusing is that, because of said tax loophole, KBR may be on the hook for damages for allegedly exposing its employees to these toxic chemicals. There are liability limitations for corporations operating in Iraq stemming from workers compensation laws enacted during WWII to protect defense contractors from suit except in cases of fraud or malfeasance.

The lawyer representing the exposed employees is arguing the shell tax shelter corporations constitutes a fraud scheme on the US government. It may or may not fly, but the arguments could get amusing on that issue. We’ll have more on this and other war profiteering issues in the weeks to come.