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Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility

Dusty boots sitting on top of sand

During the spring and summer of 2003, about 830 service members guarded a water treatment facility in the Basrah oil fields at Qarmat Ali, Iraq. Service members included National Guard, Reserve, and active duty soldiers. Many of the Guard/Reserve members were from Indiana, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Oregon.

This facility was contaminated with sodium dichromate dust, which is a source of hexavalent chromium, a chemical that is known to cause cancer.

Exposure to chromium at Qarmat Ali

The Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility area was contaminated with sodium dichromate. The chemical was used as an anti-corrosion agent by previous workers at the plant and was found on the ground after bags of the chemical were opened at the site. Those service members assigned to the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility may have been exposed to toxic hexavalent chromium from breathing contaminated sodium dichromate dust.

The water at Qarmat Ali was not used for drinking, so drinking contaminated water is not considered a significant source of exposure.

Service members who worked in the port at Qarmat Ali or those who simply drove supplies back and forth to the site were at no risk for exposure.

In September 2003, the water treatment plant site grounds were cleaned and covered with asphalt. In October 2003, the U.S. Army assessed the environmental contamination levels and evaluated most of the service members present at that time. The results indicated low risks for health-related problems for these service members. However, the amount of exposure of those service members present before the U.S. Army’s assessment is uncertain. Therefore, it is difficult to determine an individual’s level of risk.

Health effects of exposure to chromium

Prolonged exposure to breathing high concentrations of chromium over months or years is known to cause lung cancer when the levels in the air are many times higher than those found in the natural environment. Exposure to chromium for short periods usually does not cause cancer.

Symptoms: Exposure to chromium can cause nasal irritations such as runny or itchy nose, sneezing, nosebleeds, nasal ulcers and holes in the nasal septum. It also can cause respiratory problems like asthma, skin irritation, and skin ulcers.

The Environmental Protection Agency determined chromium in the air is a human carcinogen. There is not enough information available to link chromium in food or water the same way.

Compensation benefits for health problems

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to chromium at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis. File a claim online.

Learn more about VA benefits.

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