Doctor alleges water linked to infections
Halliburton contends it met Army standards
By DAVID IVANOVICH
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - A U.S. Army doctor serving in Iraq has linked a small outbreak of bacterial infections among U.S. troops to allegedly contaminated water supplied by Houston-based Halliburton Co.
In the latest broadside against Halliburton and its performance in Iraq, Senate Democrats produced an e-mail Friday from Capt. A. Michelle Callahan, a family physician serving at Qayyarah Airfield West, recounting how she treated six infections over a two-week period in January, at the same time she was noticing the water in base showers was cloudy and foul-smelling.
Follow-up testing of the water soldiers were using to bathe, shave and even brush their teeth revealed evidence of coliform and E. coli bacteria, Callahan wrote in an e-mail to a staffer for the Democratic Policy Committee, led by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Halliburton subsidiary KBR was responsible for treating water at that base, under a contract to provide logistical support to U.S. troops.
Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann said the company provided water at the base "consistent with the Army's standards and used the same process the Army itself had been using before KBR took over the water operations there."
Daniel Carlson, a spokesman for the Army Field Support Command in Rock Island, Ill., said military officials are aware of the issues being raised.
"Our personnel in Iraq are diligently working to assure a proper water supply," he said.
Once Callahan raised the alarm, Halliburton chlorinated the water in the area where the infections had occurred.
But the water was still cloudy, Callahan said. Further investigation revealed that the water the troops were using was actually wastewater from a purification unit, she wrote.
In response to the issues Callahan identified, KBR installed an additional water purification unit.
Halliburton spokeswoman Mann noted that "despite the fact that KBR believed it was meeting the Army's own requirements, the Army requested and KBR immediately changed the treatment process and is still handling water treatment there."
Concerns about possible water contamination first arose in March 2005, when a KBR employee at Camp Ar Ramadi reported spotting what looked like larvae in a toilet.
Wil Granger, then KBR's water quality manager, and colleague Steve Outain conducted what they called a "cursory investigation."
But the report they issued two months later was explosive, warning that troops could have been exposed to "potentially harmful water for an undetermined amount of time."
Halliburton officials have distanced themselves from Granger's report. Indeed, they told Dorgan that Granger's findings, titled KBR Report of Findings & Root Cause Water Mission B4 Ar Ramadi, constituted Granger's "personal conclusions."
Noted Dorgan: "That is almost unbelievable to me."
Dorgan's panel learned about the water quality issue and went public with Granger's concerns in January.
Then in February, Jerry Allen, KBR's senior manager/practice leader for the Environmental/Water Resources Department, issued a "final report" disputing many of Granger and Outain's findings.
When they were conducting their probe, Granger and Health Safety and Environment Manager Kevin Pope "received inaccurate information," Allen wrote in the report.
"We have been unable to conclusively determine whether the 'larvae' was actually a microorganism or an optical illusion caused by a leak in the toilet fixture," the report said.
Who was purifying water?
And in March 2005 when the purported larvae sighting occurred, the Army — not KBR — was purifying water at Ar Ramadi "due to difficulties in obtaining and installing the necessary equipment," Allen said.
Allen conceded the water for showers was not chlorinated, but said military regulations required water for such uses to be chlorinated only "if prescribed by the command surgeon."
Jeffrey Griffiths, a professor of public health and medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, scoffed at that assertion.
"You don't shower with water that's not chlorinated — at least," Griffiths said. "It's called common sense."[email protected]
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