Veterans File Lawsuit Over K2 Air Base Water Contamination, Seeking Release of Records About Toxic Exposure
Two veterans’ groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense, seeking to force the release of records about toxic chemicals they may have been exposed to while serving during the Afghanistan War at the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Air Base in Uzbekistan.
The Freedom of Information Act complaint (PDF) was filed by the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center and Stronghold Freedom Foundation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on April 3.
The lawsuit comes amid growing concerns about toxic exposures during military service, and water contamination at military bases like Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina, where the U.S. failed to disclose problems for decades.
Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Ari Base Water Contamination Concerns
The groups bringing this case represent the interests of veterans who served at the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, in Uzbekistan, which was a launching base for the U.S. Army Special Forces to launch strikes against the Taliban and al-Qa’ida during the early years of the Afghanistan War.
More than 15,000 veterans have served on the base, also commonly referred to as K2 or Camp Stronghold Freedom, and reports suggest that these individuals have been experiencing higher than usual rates of illness and death and five times the risk of cancer, according to the lawsuit. This has raised concerns of potentially hidden toxic exposures at the K2 air base from water contamination.
The U.S. military began using the base at the start of the war in Afghanistan, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and continued to do so until the base’s closure in 2005. However, the base had a long history of use in the past by the Soviet Union, which fought its own unsuccessful war in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
U.S. officials have indicated the base was known to be contaminated by several hazardous substances, from jet fuel to slightly radioactive depleted uranium, the lawsuit states. It also notes the military is known to have uncovered at least two hazardous material disposal areas, consisting of a large bottomless drum and a drainage ditch the Soviets used to dispose of jet fuel, aviation maintenance solvents and other hazardous substances directly into the ground. It also found asbestos throughout the base.
According to the lawsuit, before the base could be fortified, service members slept in tents on the ground, and the tents would fill with “foul-smelling” water that flowed throughout the base. In addition, men stationed on earthen berms made from the local soil began experiencing headaches, nausea and full body rashes.
The lawsuit notes investigators found trenches were filled with a thick, dark chemical liquid that was viscous at the bottom and emitted a strong chemical odor. The chemicals were identified as being several volatile organic compounds from jet fuel and aviation maintenance solvents.
“Servicemembers at Karshi-Khanabad were advised to avoid unnecessary digging into the earth. However, extensive digging was necessary to develop and maintain this major air base, exposing servicemembers directly to toxic substances,” the lawsuit notes. “The earthen security berms channeled Karshi-Khanabad’s substantial rainwater directly into living and working areas. This water indiscriminately flowed through the cordoned-off areas and living areas alike.”
K2 Toxic Exposure Records Release Sought
Over the years, and through multiple incidents where service members fell ill or toxic substances were discovered, individuals who served on the base were never told exactly what the chemicals were. However, access to information about the K2 toxic exposures could prove critical in helping veterans identify potential causes for their illnesses and increase their ability to monitor for future potential health problems.
After they returned home, seeing the illnesses among those who served at the base, groups of veterans formed Facebook groups and then advocacy groups to share what information they had. However, the U.S. Department of Defense has never provided veterans complete information about what chemical and environmental hazards they were exposed to while serving at K2 Air Base, the lawsuit alleges.
“Many Karshi-Khanabad veterans are still fighting to manage and treat their rare illnesses. The occurrence of these illnesses in otherwise healthy individuals often astounds their doctors,” the lawsuit states. “Veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad know that they were exposed to potential toxins but are unable to explain what they were exposed to, and their doctors are unable to determine whether their exposure was sufficient to warrant further testing.”
The lawsuit calls for the Defense Department to conduct a reasonable search for those records and to release them to the veterans’ groups as soon as possible.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination and PACT Act Toxic Exposure Protections
K2 is just one of many military bases linked to toxic exposure of veterans, but most of the focus on this problem has centered around the Camp Lejeune Marine Training Base in North Carolina, and recent legislation that has provided veterans with long-overdue compensation for injuries caused by water contamination, as well as toxic burn pits during deployments.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Lawsuit
In August 2022, President Biden signed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, known as the Honoring our PACT Act, which improved healthcare access and fundings for veterans exposed to toxic substances during military service.
The landmark legislation also inclided the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which corrected the federal governments failure to address water contamination problems at the Marine base in North Carolina, which continued for decades.
Estimates suggest more than a million Marines and their family members were exposed to contaminated Camp Lejeune water between the early 1950s and late 1980s, with some reports suggesting that toxic chemicals from Camp Lejeune may be responsible for more than 28,000 cases of bladder cancer, 50,000 cases of breast cancer, and 24,000 cases of renal cancer, as well as thousands of cases involve multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease and other health complications. It is also believed Camp Lejeune water caused birth defects and wrongful death for thousands of unborn children exposed in utero.
Although the U.S. government knew about the widespread water contamination at Camp Lejeune, after chemicals leached into the drinking water, no warnings were provided for veterans or family members living on the base for decades.
By the time information about the Camp Lejeune water contamination was known, veterans and family members were prevented from pursuing compensation and benefits from the U.S. government, which raised immunity defenses and the North Carolina statute of limitations, which was already expired on most claims.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study in 2014, which looked at deaths among Camp Lejeune civilian workers between 1979 and 2008. When they compared those deaths to deaths at another military base which was not known to have contaminated water, they found that Camp Lejeune workers had higher rates of death due cancers of the breasts, bladder, kidneys, lungs, oral cavity, prostate, and rectum.
The new legislation provides a two year window for veterans, family members and other individuals to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit over injuries. Thousands of individuals have already presented claims for various types of cancer, neurological disorders and other disease linked to contaminants in the water.
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