Stories of short supplies have haunted the U.S. military throughout the war in Iraq—things like inadequate body armor or unshielded Hummers. But while many soldiers say they had good access to water and even Gatorade, the 11 News Defenders discovered that others, stationed all over the country and during all phases of this desert war, say something else was often missing.
“We were rationed two bottles of water a day,” said Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Robey, referring to 1 to 1.5 liter bottles.
In this report, Robey talks about running out of water and forced to drink water out of faucets in Iraq homes, because that was the only water around. The problem with that is, most Iraqi water is untreated and can cause illness. As a result, dysentery spread rapidly through his unit, affecting between 50 to 60 men.
They had to resort to stealing water from civilian contractors by taking unsafe routes, with road bombs, to the airport to find pallets of water that had not been distributed.
Another problem facing the soldiers was – unclean water in the sinks and showers in Iraq.
Turns out, at many similar bases, the water was supposed to be processed by Houston-based company KBR. In an internal KBR report, the company sites “massive programmatic issues” with water for personal hygiene dating back to 2005. It outlines how there was no formalized training for anyone involved with water operations, and one camp, Ar Ramadi, had no disinfection for shower water whatsoever.
“That water was two to three times as contaminated as the water out of the Euphrates River,” said former KBR employee Ben Carter.
Carter, a water purification specialist, was the one to blow the whistle on it all. He said he first noticed a problem when he found a live maggot in a base toilet at Camp Ar Ramadi. He subsequently discovered that instead of using chlorinated water, the soldiers’ sinks and showers were pouring out untreated wastewater.
I did some digging and found that this problem goes back to 2004, it was first reported by ABC News in 2006.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee is looking into allegations that KBR failed to act on reports of water problems at Camp Ar Ramadi, also known as Camp Junction City, and home to more than 5,000 troops.
Ben Carter, a water-purification specialist and former Halliburton employee who worked at Camp Junction City, discovered the problem last year. A day after he ran a test on the base’s water supply, Carter sent an “incident report” to Halliburton officials in a March 24, 2005, e-mail.
“It is my opinion that the water source is without question contaminated with numerous micro-organisms, including coliform bacteria,” he wrote. “There is little doubt that raw sewage is routinely dumped upstream of intake much less than the required 2 mile distance. Therefore, it is my conclusion that chlorination of our water tanks, while certainly beneficial, is not sufficient protection from parasitic exposure.”
At that time, a KBR spokesperson said there was no medical proof to substantiate the claims that were being made. As a footnote, no Republicans participated in the inquiry. I guess their version of being patriotic is sending our men over to a war, but if they aren’t getting the proper equipment and supplies to survive, it’s unpatriotic to investigate military contractors not doing their job or for soldiers to complain.
Then in March 2008, the Washington Post did an update about U.S. soldiers at a military base in Iraq being provided with treated but untested wastewater for nearly two years by KBR.
The inspector general said that from March 2004 to February 2006, KBR inappropriately distributed chlorinated wastewater to 5,000 U.S. troops at Camp Q-West, located at the Qayyarah West airfield about 180 miles north of Baghdad. The wastewater had been processed by a reverse-osmosis purification system and treated with chlorine before being distributed to showers and latrines on the base.
The report said that from October 2005 to June 2006, sick-call records showed 38 reported illnesses that “an attending medical official said could be attributed to water, such as skin abscesses, cellulites, skin infections and diarrhea.” The report said it was impossible to definitively link the treated water to all the illnesses.
At a handful of other bases that were audited, both KBR and the military failed to perform required water-quality checks, the report stated. At Camp Ar Ramadi in Anbar province, auditors found that of 251 soldiers interviewed, 44 percent reported water provided for personal hygiene that was discolored or had an unusual odor.