WASHINGTON – A military team sent to evaluate electrical problems at U.S. facilities in Iraq determined there was a high risk that flawed wiring could cause further "catastrophic results" — namely, the electrocutions of U.S. soldiers.
The team said the use of a required device, commonly found in American houses to prevent electrical shocks, was "patchy at best" near showers and latrines in U.S. military facilities. There also was widespread use of uncertified electrical devices and "incomplete application" of U.S. electrical codes in buildings throughout the war-torn country, the team found.
At least three U.S. service members have been electrocuted in Iraq while taking showers in the six years since the U.S.-led invasion of the country.
The highest-profile death was that of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, a Green Beret from Pittsburgh who was electrocuted while showering in his barracks early last year. Other troops and contractors have died or have been seriously injured in other electrical incidents.
A copy of the team's Sept. 8 report to the then-commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, was obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Since this report to Petraeus, Task Force SAFE in Iraq, which was created to deal with the electrical problems, began extensive inspections and repairs of wiring in about 90,000 U.S.-maintained facilities in Iraq. The Associated Press has reported previously that about a third of the inspections so far have turned up major electrical problems. Half of those problems have since been fixed, but about 65,000 facilities still must be inspected, the military has said.
The military has said it could be November before all the inspections are complete.
In a statement e-mailed to the AP, Dave Foster, an Army spokesman, said the service is committed to improving safety for U.S. troops.
"Even in austere, combat environments, the Army must focus on promoting a 'culture of safety' for all soldiers ... civilians and contractors," Foster said.
The safety team, based at the Army's Combat Readiness/Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., was sent to Iraq late last summer. In addition to the use of uncertified electrical parts, the team cited "inconsistent enforcement of any standard, inconsistent and inadequate standards for using electrical devices, incomplete application of electrical codes and lack of thorough contractor oversight."
The result, the team concluded, was "unmitigated electrical-related hazards" throughout Iraq, with improper bonding a "most pervasive" problem.
The report notes that ground fault circuit interrupters, commonly used in American homes, weren't found in a large number of the facilities the team inspected. The interrupters are required in places where electrical circuits are in proximity to water sources. They are designed to measure electrical currents and shut off power to the circuit if necessary.
The report says the inconsistent use of the interrupters can lead to electrocution "when a ground fault occurs in the system and a human being comes into contact with that circuit."
"Based upon past accident statistics, the team assessed the probability of this event occurring as 'seldom,' but when the event does occur, it is often with 'catastrophic' results," the report said. "Therefore the team assessed the present risk as 'high.'"
The problems described in the report went beyond shoddy wiring. The team said "ammunition, dirty laundry and other combustibles touching or in close proximity to potential electrical fire sources" created a high risk for troops in their living quarters.
It noted that contact with low-hanging and exposed wires has caused eight electrocutions. It recommended developing and implementing training that would help soldiers avoid this danger.
The report does not specifically name any military contractors but does say more oversight of contractors is needed. A majority of the U.S. facilities are maintained by Houston-based KBR Inc. Heather Browne, a KBR spokeswoman, said in a statement that safety is the company's top priority.
"We have pledged full cooperation with the government on this issue and that will continue," she said.
The other two U.S. service members identified as dying from electrocution while showering are Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class David A. Cedergren, 25, of South St. Paul, Minn., and Army Cpl. Marcos Nolasco, 34, of Chino, Calif.