The latest burn pit news articles. This page will be updated with more burn pit news articles as they appear.
Vets are still dying from burn-pit illnesses, advocates say
MilitaryTimes, October 6, 2016
Veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan are begging government leaders and the public to keep paying attention to their crippling health problems. “We write because these veterans are seriously ill, dying or have passed away, and more must be done,” a group of 700 veterans and family members with Burn Pits 360 wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday. “Many of us went to war able to run marathons, but now our health has deteriorated so much that we cannot hold down steady jobs. “We are misdiagnosed. We are not getting the medical care we urgently need. We need you to act in this, your final year in office.” The letter comes just days after a Government Accountability Office report found shortfalls in the Defense Department’s monitoring of burn-pit victims, and asks White House officials not to let the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs “sweep us under the rug.” It also calls for significant changes in how the National Airborne Hazards Open Burn Pit Registry is administered, to allow more families to record veterans’ post-service problems. “We’re receiving death entries from these families on a weekly basis,” said Rosie Lopez-Torres, executive director of Burn Pits 360. “But the national registry now doesn’t allow you to input a death entry. So there is no record of (those veterans’) illnesses.” Defense Department and Veterans Affairs officials have frequently cited the difficulty of linking troops’ illnesses to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, given the undocumented nature of what was burned in each pit and just how much exposure individual veterans had. More than 81,000 veterans and current service members are in the registry, reporting illnesses from respiratory fatigue to rare cancers and neurological disorders. But Lopez-Torres said she has at least 5,000 more cases that aren’t included in that list, because of the reporting restrictions. “The burn pits are this generation’s Agent Orange, but we are seeing deaths happen after three or five years, instead of decades later,” Torres said. “We cannot afford to wait for another delayed medical study, we need the president and Congress to recognize this crisis is happening now.” In a 2009 White House roundtable with Military Times, Obama pledged the burn-pit issue would not be treated the same way as Agent Orange-related illnesses from the Vietnam War, which took years of research and political fights to be recognized for veterans benefits. Lopez-Torres worries that after a flurry of attention to the issue in the early years of Obama’s presidency, the topic now risks being ignored. One of the criticisms leveled in the recent GAO report is that despite work on helping troops exposed to burn pits in recent wars, military leaders have not established clear compliance policies on use of disposal fires in future conflicts. “While most of the overseas geographic commands may not currently be involved in contingency operations within their areas of responsibility, waste disposal would likely be required if such operations arise in the future, and the use of burn pits would be one option for disposing of waste,” the report warns. The Burn Pits 360 letter asks for Obama to use his final months in office to “speak out and educate the American people” about the long-term health effects of burn pits, as well as order more research into health conditions and medical impact of exposure to burning of hazardous materials.
Commentary: We can’t let burn pits become the new Agent Orange
Fox News, May 9, 2016
Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Thom Tillis: A prosthetic leg. A scarred face. A burned hand. When we think of the wounds our soldiers endure, we think of injuries we can see. But sometimes these wounds go unseen and, too often uncared for. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. sprayed 80 million liters of Agent Orange, contaminating water and exposing more than two million members of the military. After being exposed to this toxin, Vietnam vets came home with nerve, skin, digestive and respiratory disorders. By the thousands, veterans turned to hospitals for help. But it took the government years to recognize that there was a link between Agent Orange and the devastating health effects on our soldiers. So, veterans had to wait to get the care they desperately needed and clearly earned. Today we have a new Agent Orange: Burn pits. At military sites across Iraq and Afghanistan, burn pits are used for waste disposal. Old batteries, aerosol cans, tires, dead animals, and even human waste are tossed into the pit and set ablaze, sometimes aided by serious fire accelerants like jet fuel. Burn pits represent a shortcut to waste disposal in the Middle East, where lacking infrastructure means there are few alternatives for trash disposal. The volumes and types of materials vary by site, but the Department of Defense has estimated that between 65,000 and 85,000 pounds of solid waste are burned each day at large bases. One Joint Base burned up to 147 tons of waste per day as recently as the summer of 2008. The open-air pits would frequently burn 24 hours a day. Soldiers are, and have been, been exposed to them in a big way. And while they are now being replaced with incinerators and landfills, that exposure has begun raising serious health concerns. Melissa Gillett was a member of the 148th Fighter Wing based in Duluth, Minnesota. Melissa got into the National Guard with the intention on staying in for 20 years. That changed after her deployment to Afghanistan and exposure to burn pits. Melissa has experienced a host of negative health effects like sinus and respiratory issues. She has been diagnosed with asthma and sinusitis. Because of her breathing issues, Melissa was unable to pass her fitness test and can no longer serves in the National Guard. Stories like Melissa’s are all too common. During sustained operations overseas, many North Carolina-based service members were directly exposed to burn pits for extended periods of time. Especially in the early stages of engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, forward operating bases relied heavily on burn pits, inundating Marines from Camp Lejeune and soldiers from Fort Bragg with smoke, debris, and lingering particle dust that carried along a toxic mix from the burn pits. When a veteran’s wounds aren’t visible, providing the proof necessary for a claim with the VA can be burdensome. But it shouldn’t be – we’ve learned that much from experience. Cancer, reproductive effects, cardiovascular toxicity, insomnia, and respiratory diseases are just some of the health problems being named by the nearly 65,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have begun the process of filing reports with the VA’s voluntary registry. Of veterans who completed the questionnaire in its entirety, 30 percent stated that they have been diagnosed with respiratory diseases. Our bipartisan bill, the Help Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, would create a center of excellence at the VA to better understand and begin to address the health needs of veterans who have fallen ill after exposure to burn pits. The bill has broad support from health care organizations and nonprofits serving veterans, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the American Lung Association. This critical legislation will move us in the right direction by dedicating staff and resources to exploring prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions stemming from exposure to burn pits. There was no waiting line for our men and women in uniform when they raised their right hands and volunteered to serve. There shouldn’t be a waiting line when they return home and need our help getting the care they’ve earned. We must do right by our veterans. We can’t let burn pits become this generation’s Agent Orange.
Editorial: Clear the air for vets on threat posed by Iraq, Afghanistan burn pits
Star Tribune, April 29, 2016
Star Tribune Editorial Board: The burn pits where the U.S. military disposed of everything from electronics to human waste to scrap metal in its Iraq and Afghanistan theater of operations ranged up to 2 acres in size. By necessity, the pits, which sometimes relied on jet fuel for incineration, were located inside military bases’ boundaries. Locating them outside the base in hostile territory would have made the workaday task of waste disposal too risky. But as veterans have returned home, questions have simmered about the airborne health hazards that may have been created by the pits. Veterans such as Melissa Gillett, who served in the Minnesota National Guard, report that it was nearly impossible to avoid steadily breathing in the pits’ foul-smelling fumes. She is one of a growing number of veterans who believe their respiratory ailments are linked to this exposure and are demanding greater recognition of their concerns. That makes U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s recent involvement in this issue both timely and welcome. Minnesota’s senior senator, along with North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, has introduced legislation directing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a “center of excellence” within the agency to better understand the health threats posed by burn pits and other common pollutants in Iraq and Afghanistan — such as sand and dust. Among other things, the legislation calls for ramping up research on these risks and developing best practices for treatment that may be needed. The bill’s cosponsors include Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken, South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. Regrettably, the House version of the bill does not have any cosponsors from Minnesota’s delegation. Given the thousands of Minnesotans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, this legislation merits their support. The legislation also merits the public’s support. While research conducted so far has not established a definitive connection between the burn pits and human health problems, the highest-profile review was done in 2011. The report, which is from the respected Institute of Medicine and was done at the VA’s request, did not find a conclusive link. It said “insufficient evidence prevented the IOM committee from developing firm conclusions about what long-term health effects might be seen in service members exposed to burn pits.’’ In the meantime, thousands of veterans have made their concerns known by signing up for the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits Registry that Congress ordered the VA to establish. About 65,000 veterans have registered. In addition, grass-roots groups such as Burn Pit 360 and others have sprung up to advocate for veterans who are concerned about the chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogens. Dr. Dave Hamlar acknowledges concerns that science has not proven the burn pits’ risk. Nevertheless, he said, “It is something worth investigating.’’ Hamlar is an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery and a Minnesota Air National Guard brigadier general. Along with Gillett, he has advocated for the “Center of Excellence” bill. Klobuchar, a Democrat, has an increasingly high profile in Congress. Advocating for this important veterans’ health issue is an appropriate use of her growing clout. It will also push the VA — which was shamefully slow to respond to concerns about appointment wait times — to take these veterans’ concerns seriously and act on them.
Vets made ill by burn pits
The Jamestown Sun, April 25, 2016
Melissa Gillett recalls the sickly sweet, nearly vomit-inducing smell during her runs around Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where she served as a member of the Minnesota National Guard. The revolting odor emanated from a large “burn pit,” one of many the U.S. military has used over the years in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places to dispose of trash, chemicals and more. Gillett did her best to avoid the burn pit’s smoke, steering clear if she couldn’t peer through it, but she said she breathed it in pretty much nonstop during her six-month tour of duty in late 2009 and early 2010. And now the 29-year-old Fargo, N.D., woman is sick, very sick. Gillett’s story, and that of many other veterans who have served near the burn pits, is now at the heart of an effort to better help those believed to be suffering health problems as a direct result. Gillett appeared Sunday alongside U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar at the American Lung Association in St. Paul to promote a bill called the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act. The legislation, which Klobuchar introduced last month, would create a “center of excellence” within the Department of Veterans Affairs to further “prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment and rehabilitation of health conditions relating to exposure to burn pits.” Because these veterans “were on the front lines” for Americans, the government has to make sure it is on the front lines for them when they return home, Klobuchar said Sunday. … The senator compared the effects of burn pits to those of the infamous Agent Orange defoliant in Vietnam, noting that it took the government years to properly help veterans affected by that chemical. She wants to make sure that doesn’t happen with burn-pit smoke. One veteran who had health issues stemming from the burn pits told Klobuchar, “This is my generation’s version of Agent Orange,” she said. Legislation similar to Klobuchar’s bill has been introduced in the past, to little avail. Dr. Dave Hamlar, an ear, nose and throat doctor at the University of Minnesota, has treated veterans exposed to the burn-pit smoke. Hamlar, a commissioned officer in the Minnesota Air National Guard who has achieved the rank of brigadier general, was once stationed in Kuwait. During Sunday’s press conference, he described what it was like to be on a base with a burn pit, saying these bases always had a strong stench that smelled like jet fuel, noting that if you could smell it, you were breathing it in. Burn pits were often as large as two acres and visible from everywhere on base, he said. At night, the area would have a yellowish glow and if someone was nearby, they could even feel the heat. If whatever was burning caused a mini-explosion, small pieces sometimes become airborne. How many U.S. military personnel have been exposed to such burn-pit smoke is unclear, but more than 65,000 veterans and active-duty personnel have completed a questionnaire as part of the Veteran Affairs Department’s Airborne Hazards and Open Pit Registry. Those eligible to participate in the registry are serving or have served during U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait along with, under some circumstances, Djibouti, Africa and the “Southwest Asia theater of operations.” KBR, a military contractor that operated many of the burn pits, has faced a flurry of lawsuits from veterans and their families. The company has fought back, claiming it operated legitimately at the military’s direction, and casting doubt on the veterans’ health claims. An Institute of Medicine study sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Department concluded in 2011 that such health claims cannot be verified because of insufficient data and the presence of pollution from other sources in the burn pits’ peripheries. Gillett’s superiors, though, appeared uneasy about personnel who went home after serving at smoke-infested Bagram Airbase. She said she was told to sign a legal form clearing the military of potential liability as she prepared to head stateside. “I refused,” she recalled. She said her superiors insisted, telling she could not go home if she did not sign. “I still refused,” and, she recalled, the brass relented after a day or two. Gillett said she suffered from continual respiratory problems at the base—and those medical issues have endured to this day.
Thousands of Iraq, Afghan war vets sickened after working at ‘burn pits’
Fox News, April 9, 2016
Thousands of U.S. military personnel who served on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan recall the dense black smoke from burn pits where everything from IEDs to human waste was incinerated. Now many have died, and more are gravely ill. Those battling a grim menu of cancers, as well as their loved ones and advocates, trace their condition to breathing in the toxic fumes they say could be the most recent wars’ version of Agent Orange or Gulf War Illness. “The clouds of smoke would just hang throughout the base,” Army Sgt. Daniel Diaz, who was stationed at Joint Base Balad, in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle from 2004-2005, told FoxNews.com. … Diaz returned from duty in 2008. A year later, he started developing health problems including cancer, chronic fatigue and weakness, neuropathy and hypothyroidism. Nearly every base he was stationed at during his four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan had burn pits nearby – and pungent smoke everywhere. … During the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the burn pit method was adopted originally as a temporary measure to get rid of waste and garbage generated on bases. Everything was incinerated in the pits, say soldiers, including plastics, batteries, appliances, medicine, dead animals and even human waste. The items were often set ablaze with jet fuel as the accelerant. Joint Base Balad, where Diaz was partially stationed, burned up to 147 tons of waste per day as recently as the summer of 2008, according to The Army Times. The incineration of the waste generated numerous pollutants including carbon monoxide and dioxide—the same chemical compound found in Agent Orange, which left many Vietnam vets sick after it was used as a defoliant. “It’s killing soldiers at a much higher rate than Agent Orange did in the Vietnam Era,” Rosie Torres, founder of Burn Pits 360, an advocacy group for service members who have fallen ill, told FoxNews.com. “Soldiers from that war were seen dying in their 50’s, 60’s or 70’s. Now with the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, we are seeing them die in their early 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.” Torres, whose husband, LeRoy Torres, fell ill almost immediately after his return from Iraq in 2008, said nearly 64,000 active service members and retirees have put their names on the Burn Pit Registry created by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But documenting their plight doesn’t guarantee coverage. “I haven’t got diddly squat,” Diaz tells Foxnews.com. “The VA is refusing to admit that my cancers are service-related. It’s frustrating. I have $100,000 in medical bills because I have no coverage. “It’s breaking my family,” he said. “I’m just trying to fight to stay alive long enough get my claim settled so my family has something when I am gone.” Once dead, servicemembers cannot retroactively be placed on the list, which advocates say leaves family members of the fallen in the lurch and often bankrupt. “It’s a failed registry. It doesn’t work. It could take 20-30 years for someone to get assistance,” Joseph Hickman, author of the 2016 book “The Burn Pits: the Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” told Foxnews.com. “It’s not fair. They need help now.” The pits burned more than 1,000 different chemical compounds day and night, and most service members breathed in toxic fumes with no protection, said Hickman, who added the Agent Orange comparison is apt. “The Department of Defense won’t admit that this is occurring and the VA does not do enough to assist service members because they are waiting on info from the DoD,” he said. Requests for comment from the Department of Defense were not immediately returned. Not every case of cancer involving a service member can be blamed on burn pit exposure, but for families who have watched healthy loved ones succumb to terminal illness within months or a few years of returning home, the connection seems clear. “It’s hard to believe that my husband did not get cancer from this,” Christie Badstibner, whose husband Brian, a 14-year Air Force veteran who died two months ago, told FoxNews.com. “How can they deny that the pits had something to do with this? No one wants to take the blame.”
Bipartisan bill to aid veterans exposed to toxic burn pits
Ripon Advance, March 16, 2016
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) co-introduced bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that would provide aid to veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. Under the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, S. 2679, a center of excellence would be established within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help prevent, diagnose, mitigate, treat and rehabilitate health conditions resulting from exposure to burn pits. “The smoke from burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq exposed American service members to harmful substances, and we have a moral obligation to provide them with care for health complications that developed as a result,” Tillis said. “This bipartisan bill moves our nation closer to fulfilling that obligation by creating a center of excellence within the VA to assist in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.” Tillis co-offered the bill with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “Veterans who fought on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with major health complications that could be linked to their exposure to toxic burn pits,” Klobuchar said. “Our bipartisan bill will help address the health needs of veterans who have fallen ill after being exposed to burn pits. It’s clear we need to do more to make sure that all veterans get the care and support they need when they return home from the battlefield.” Tillis, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has co-introduced seven bipartisan bills designed to improve VA health care services and to enhance educational opportunities for veterans and their family members.
Lawmaker to pitch new veterans center for hazardous exposures
MilitaryTimes, February 24, 2016
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., plans to introduce legislation Thursday to create a “center of excellence” to study and manage medical care for veterans with illnesses caused by chemicals and other battlefield environmental hazards. Walz will propose a “Center of Excellence for Toxic Wounds,” managed by the Veterans Affairs Department, that would provide a one-stop shop for research initiatives, health care treatment policy and guidance, and specialty care for chronic illnesses linked to exposures resulting from military service. Speaking with the House Veterans’ Affairs oversight and investigations subcommittee on Tuesday, Walz said the time has come for VA to consolidate programs on myriad environmental exposures that poison veterans. “Vietnam veterans are concerned about genetic defects caused by Agent Orange. There’s the burn pits, there’s depleted uranium. Shame on us for not learning. Every generation is having to come back and fight for all these things,” Walz said. The VA has three centers dedicated to post-deployment health conditions — the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Centers in Palo Alto, California; East Orange, New Jersey; and Washington, D.C. The WRIISCs provide clinical diagnosis and treatment for veterans with medically unexplained symptoms, educate veterans and health care providers on such illnesses and conduct research on deployment-related illnesses. But the new center would bring a “laser focus” to these issues, Walz said. “It brings it all under one umbrella, helping make the research and the movement on these problems much faster,” Walz said. The Defense Department oversees a number of centers of excellence, including one co-managed by the VA for psychological health and traumatic brain injury as well as the Deployment Health Clinical Center and the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. Other Pentagon-managed centers for excellence are dedicated to vision and hearing loss in military personnel. Walz said having one entity responsible for overseeing exposure research and treatment, regardless of toxin or conflict, would improve decisions on research spending, and, most likely, yield better results. “You have to make decisions on where the spending goes. And we must keep going,” Walz said. The idea received support from subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who said it could “combine resources and get down to the bottom” of the problem for veterans, now and in the future. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, assistant deputy undersecretary for health, safety and quality at the Veterans Health Administration, said VA also is open to the idea.
Burn Pits 360 lobbies for veterans in Washington D.C.
KRISTV, February 22, 2016
Members of the group Burn Pits 360 are in Washington D.C. this week pushing for legislation to help veterans with health problems from exposure to burn pits. The open-air fires were used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan to burn trash that often included rubber and plastic items. A national registry shows approximately 56,000 soldiers were exposed to the toxic fumes. Burn Pits 360 is meeting with Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Joaquin Castro as well as several veterans organizations in Washington D.C. The group hopes to expand healthcare for those suffering health consequences from the burn pits and track the number of veterans who have died from illnesses related to the exposure. Rosie Torres and Diane Slape, who are representing the group on the trip, will present their ideas to the House and Senate Wednesday. For both Torres and Slape, advocating for soldiers exposed to burn pits is very personal. Slape lost her 42-year-old husband Frederick this fall to lung cancer. She says it was caused by burn pits in Afghanistan. … Le Roy and Rosie Torres founded Burn Pits 360. The group lobbied for a national registry for burn pit victims, which President Obama signed into law in 2013. Now in an effort to track those who have died from exposure to burn pits, Torres is presenting Congress with a list of nearly 50 she says have lost their lives due to the toxins. The group is advocating for compensation for the families of these deceased veterans, who are currently not eligible for benefits. … Another component of the proposal is expanding healthcare for those who are currently suffering, which members of Burn Pits 360 say is so important because it could mean families get more time with their loved ones. “It’s sort of like a matter of time, when do you discover that cancer, when do you discover that terminal illness?” Rosie Torres said. “So we really don’t want to sit back and wait 20 years until thousands of others die.” Burn Pits 360 is also giving politicians in Washington D.C. a recently published book called “The Burn Pits” to help raise awareness about the issue.
Thousands of veterans are sick, dying because of burning garbage
Vice News, February 16, 2016
At the start of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military commanders were faced with a seemingly mundane problem: how to dispose of the wreckage created by bombs and battle, and the waste created by more than 100,000 military personnel. This soon became a serious issue — every soldier was said to be producing an average of 10 pounds of trash per day — and the DOD decided to construct open-air burn pits on military bases to incinerate the trash. The Pentagon contracted the firm Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) to get the job done, and by May of 2003, there were more than 270 burn pits operating on military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the pits were massive — some as large as 10 acres, burning more than 50 tons of trash a day. Most pits operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in close proximity to where service members slept and worked. The acrid smoke and ash from the pits was a constant annoyance to soldiers. From 2002 until 2009, there was no regulation for what could or could not be burned. And so KBR burned Styrofoam, plastics, tires, pesticide containers, batteries, medical waste, and even human body parts. According to a 2010 Government Accountability Report, more than 1,000 known toxins and carcinogens were burned in the pits. As early as 2004, US veterans returning home from the wars began to get sick. Their symptoms often started out as annoyances — constant congestion, endlessly runny noses. But the symptoms didn’t always go away; instead, they would get worse, leading to shortness of breath, constant pain, and an inability to work. For the sickest vets, there were diagnoses of cancer. And, eventually, death.
Vets and contractors believed to be sickened by war time burn pits
KOAA, February 4, 2016
A News5 investigation into so-called burn pits looks into how toxic fumes our service members and civilian contractors were exposed to in war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq on a daily basis are now believed to be causing serious health problems. As thousands of veterans came home from war, doctors started noticing a common health problem, they reported having a cough and/or trouble breathing. Some cases developed into rare lung diseases, and few even ended in death. But just as more vets and civilians are being diagnosed as having respiratory problems, Congress cut funding for more research on burn pit exposures for 2016. The burn pits were used to destroy all types of waste during wars in the Middle East, burning everything from trash and food waste, to vehicle parts, ammunition, tires, batteries, medical waste, animal carcasses, chemicals, plastic and in some cases even body parts. The Department of Veterans Affairs said one of the challenges in understanding the risks of burn pits is that each one could contain varying kinds of waste and that could differ on a day-to-day basis. “We have no idea what these veterans were exposed to day to day,” said Daniel Warvi, Public Affairs Officer, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System. Veronica Landry, who was a contractor in Iraq roughly 10 years ago, worked for the company that was contracted to run many of the Department of Defense’s burn pits, KBR. She said the burn pits were close to living quarters and exercise areas, and sometimes they were instructed to take cover in bunkers because ammunition would ignite and explode in the burn pit. … There are believed to have been dozens of burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar and a few other locations. Army veteran Richard Vanhorn said after three tours stretching all over the Middle East, he was exposed to many burn pits and likely toxic fumes. He started noticing trouble before he was even out of the Army. “I just felt myself get more out of breath, I would struggle a lot more,” said Vanhorn. At 29 years old, Vanhorn was diagnosed with Deployment Related Lung Disease and emphysema. … Vanhorn is now part of several studies at National Jewish Health in Denver, as experts there try to pinpoint exactly what’s plaguing service members’ lungs. Landry, who recently had a lung biopsy done, is also seeking treatment at National Jewish Health. She was recently diagnosed with a debilitating disorder called Bronchiolitis. … Veronica was healthy, a cyclist and never smoked. Now in her early 40′s, she has an oxygen tank at home. … In 2011, Dr. Cecile Rose at National Jewish Health teamed up with other researchers to begin trying to understand why vets and contractors were suffering these seemingly mysterious and debilitating respiratory disorders. They received a $500,000 grant from the Department of Defense that same year to begin their work. … After a directive from Congress in 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs started a Burn Pit Registry, which went online in 2014. Since then, more than 27,000 vets report being exposed to burn pits and of those, 30 percent said they’ve been diagnosed with respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. … National Jewish Health in Denver is proving to be the top place in the country to receive treatment and conduct research. Dr. Rose said she’s already seen well over 100 patients and her team expects those numbers will grow immensely in the next few years as word gets out about these lung disorders linked to deployment. … She said she and her team are anxious to work with the Department of Defense on prevention, the most obvious answer would be to have incinerators and stricter guidelines. She’s also studying the effects of dust exposure and other airborne hazards service members were breathing in while deployed. While research into burn pit exposure is relatively new, really ramping up two years ago, it also suffered a major blow this year. Congress failed to fund peer reviewed medical research of burn pits for the upcoming year, leaving it off of the Congressional Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) for 2016. … Dr. Rose said with or without inclusion on the CDMRP, the research will continue at National Jewish Health with the VA and with private money.
Federal court to weigh lawsuit alleging lung diseases from Iraq, Afghanistan burn pits
Stars and Stripes, December 31, 2015
A federal district court on Jan. 21 will consider the scope of a lawsuit alleging soldiers’ exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan led to serious respiratory illnesses and deaths and whether government contractor KBR, Inc. is responsible for the way the pits were operated. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the military relied heavily on the large, open-air pits to burn trash and waste daily, exposing the personnel working the pits and others living nearby to toxic smoke. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office found the Department of Defense was not following its own regulations for safe burn-pit operations, and that pits were regularly used to dispose of prohibited plastics, paints, batteries, aerosols, aluminum and other items that could produce harmful emissions when burned. KBR, under the military’s logistical support contract, operated the pits. For military families affected, there’s no question in their minds that the burn pits caused the illnesses they now face. “My husband was deployed to Iraq in 2007. He came back sick,” said Rosie Torres, executive director of Burn Pits 360, a nonprofit group raising awareness of the long-term respiratory illnesses and cancers servicemembers have experienced since returning from deployment. Since his illness, retired Army Capt. Le Roy Torres has been diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis and had to leave his job as a Texas state trooper. He’s had cysts in his spleen, regular headaches and is on oxygen. But what could still be unknown about the long-term effects of exposure to the pits is the worst part, Rosie Torres said. “He’s stable but he’s not,” she said. “We don’t know enough about this lung disease to say what going to happen next.” Torres and her husband are party to the lawsuit, she said. On Jan. 21, a federal district court in Greenbelt, Md. will hear arguments to determine the scope of the case, which was originally filed in 2010 and potentially could include more than 53 former or current bases in Iraq, including al Taqqadum Air Base and Taji, where some of the 3,550 U.S. soldiers sent back to Iraq are deployed to train Iraqi security forces. Col. Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, did not know whether burn pits were still in use at Iraqi military training sites. Nine locations in Afghanistan are also potentially within the lawsuit’s scope, as are another eight bases supporting Iraq and Afghanistan operations, such as Camp Arijian in Kuwait. Since the original filing, dozens of similar lawsuits by servicemembers have been consolidated under this case, which is being presided over by Judge Robert W. Titus at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Greenbelt Division. The lawsuit is just one of several fronts in which veterans groups and the DOD are attempting to weigh what effect burn-pit exposure has had on servicemembers. In 2015, Congress added burn-pit exposure to a list of peer-reviewed medical issues to be studied by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program at Fort Detrick, Md. That study is not yet underway, said Gail Whitehead, a spokesman for the program. Research funding for the congressional program starts at two years, and typically produces a report within three years, Whitehead said. Burn-pit exposure was not included in the 2016 list of topics. In addition, Veterans Affairs opened a burn-pit registry in 2014 for the estimated 2.3 million veterans who served in Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s or supported the more recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA did so to record what ailments they were experiencing, where and when they served, and whether they were exposed to burn pits. Torres said 53,255 veterans had registered as of Nov. 30, and that her group wants to make more veterans aware of the registry. The VA has released two studies based on information collected from the registry. The data shows that personnel who worked at burn pits were more likely to report a chronic respiratory disease, and the department has said “veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke may be at greater risk.” However, the VA said “at this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.” The VA will be expected to report to Congress later this year on its findings from the registry based on language inserted by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., into the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill.
Congress drops burn pit exposure from Pentagon research list
Military.com, December 23, 2015
Burn pit exposure as a cause of illnesses among veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to make the 2016 list of peer-reviewed medical research programs that Congress requires the Defense Department to conduct. The absence of burn pit exposure on the list was confirmed on Tuesday by a spokeswoman for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs at Fort Detrick, Maryland. “Congress designates the topic areas for each fiscal year, and these topic areas change each year,” Gail Whitehead told Military.com. The research programs fall under the Department of Defense budget. “There’s nothing comparable,” said Anthony Hardie, director of Veterans for Common Sense. “There’s very little research inside the [Department of Veterans Affairs].” Ron Brown, president of the National Gulf War Research Center, which has long advocated for more medical research into Gulf War Illness and now burn pit exposure, said he didn’t know why the topic was discontinued. It was added for the first time to the list in 2015, according to Brown, who took part in the peer reviewed process this year. “What they may have done … instead of listing it as ‘burn pit exposure,’ is broken it down in subcategories dealing with specific illnesses that would be covered under [that topic], such as constrictive bronchiolitis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis,” he said. “But why they would do that I’m not sure,” Brown said, because burn pit exposure as a topic would have covered those and other ailments that affect veterans of the Persian Gulf War, Iraq War and Afghanistan War. The Defense Department’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs provides research grants and contracts to study illnesses and possible treatments for illnesses and diseases related to military service. The program’s 2015 budget totaled $247.5 million. From 1992 through 2015, the department’s funding for the effort totaled more than $13 billion.
Veterans say ‘Burn Pits’ created toxic clouds that made them sick
NPR, December 18, 2015
In 2008, Army Reserve Capt. LeRoy Torres returned home to Robstown, Texas, after a tour in Iraq. He went back to work as a state trooper with the Texas Highway Patrol. Torres was a longtime runner. So when a suspect took off on foot one morning, Torres sprinted after him. But something was wrong. A burning sensation in his chest hurt so bad, it almost knocked him down. “I was able to catch up, but afterwards, my goodness, I remember just — I laid on the ground, I was so exhausted,” Torres says. “One of my buddies said, ‘Man, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Man, I don’t know. I just feel really, really tired — my chest feels really tight. I don’t know.’ I couldn’t catch my breath.” A few years later, Torres was diagnosed with a rare disease called constrictive bronchiolitis. Scars in his lungs block the flow of air. He’s among a growing number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who believe their respiratory ailments are linked to burn pits. These were acres-wide mounds of waste near bases that contained everything from batteries to vehicle scraps to amputated body parts. The refuse was usually ignited with jet fuel. “What people don’t understand is just how large some of these bases really are — I mean, they’re small cities,” Patricia Kime tells NPR’s David Greene. She’s a health care and medicine reporter for Military Times. She says soldiers reported seeing dark plumes of smoke hanging heavy in the air. “So these are open-air pits where they would light it on fire, and quite often they ran 24 hours a day,” she says. One challenge for veterans is proving that burn pits are really the cause of their illnesses. “People have said that it’s this toxic mix of tiny, tiny dust particles that are not related to the burn pits, that are just related to the soil and the air in Iraq and Afghanistan, and often has contaminants in it such as aluminum and iron and titanium — so, heavy metals,” Kime says. “The burn pits are the most obvious visual reason to blame, but it could be the dust, it could be chemical exposures, there could be a lot of other issues going on.” Last year, Congress ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to set up the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. So far, almost 50,000 veterans have signed up. “It’s not just necessarily burn pits. If you feel like you’re sick as a result of deployment, you can sign on to it,” Kime says. “And it’s supposed to be used to track and to try to get some handle on the extent of the illnesses among this cadre.” A statement from the Department of Veterans Affairs in response to NPR’s request for comment said, in part: “At this time, there is conflicting and insufficient research to show that long-term health problems have resulted from burn pit exposure. VA continues to study the health of exposed veterans. The burn pit registry, which helps participants to become more aware of their health, while helping researchers to study the health effects of burn pits and other airborne hazards, is one of several research projects currently underway at VA.” And there’s something else at stake here. One of the companies that operated the burn pits, KBR Inc., is facing lawsuits from veterans across the country. The company says if it’s held liable, the U.S. military will have a hard time finding companies to do this kind of work.
Deployment environmental reports not in military health records
Military Times, November 1, 2015
For more than three years, the military services have been allowed to ignore a Defense Department order requiring the inclusion of environmental assessments of combat environments in troops’ medical records. The Pentagon in 2006 published an instruction requiring the services add occupational and environmental risk assessments generated for locations during a certain period into medical records of troops who served in the affected place and time. Some veterans have developed illnesses they believe may be related to exposure to pollutants released by open air burn pits, heavy metals found in fine dust, exposure to chemical weapons and parasites. Since at least 2012, however, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness waived that requirement, and a memo written in 2013 extended the waiver for another two years, with acting Undersecretary of Defense (P&R) Jessica Wright saying the reports, known as Periodic Occupational and Environmental Monitoring Summaries — POEMS — are summaries of “population-level health risks,” and not an indication of exposure to individual service members. According to Wright, including the information in medical records could sway troops to link any illnesses they may have to their deployment environment, which may lead to “biased assessments of exposure and health risk” and possibly provide “support for disability claims for chronic illnesses that may not be due to exposure.” To troops and veterans sick with respiratory illnesses, cancers and unexplained diseases they think are related to pollution, chemicals or other environmental hazards in Iraq and Afghanistan, the memo, initially released online by the law firm Bergmann & Moore, is an outrage, a concerted effort to squelch the truth about deployment environmental hazards, from burn-pit pollution to dust laden with heavy metals. “This is a rationale for denying not only patients, but also their physicians, ready access that DoD — and any reasonable American — should consider relevant to diagnosis and treatment,” said Peter Sullivan, father of a Marine who died of an unexplained illnesses in 2009 following a deployment to Iraq. He is also director of the Sgt. Sullivan Center, a nonprofit that advocates for research on military environmental exposures. “It feels like a slap in the face,” said a retired Air Force master sergeant who suffers a debilitating lung disease and requested anonymity because she works for the federal government and fears retribution for discussing the subject. “We put our lives on the line over there and these are the people trying to deny me disability.”
War vets suspect burn pits causing thousands of serious illnesses
Philly.com, October 11, 2015
The smoke sometimes turned from black to green, like the olive drab of an old military uniform, as it rose from a pit of smoldering trash. The color depended on what was burning. There was refuse from chow halls and latrines at Camp Al Taqaddum in Iraq. But contractors also bulldozed in broken computers, wrecked humvees, and medical waste. Chris Lang, a Marine from Doylestown, Pa., slept in a tent downwind from the inferno. “We always joked about it,” he said of the Olympic-pool-size burn pit. “Like, we’re going to live through this [war] but not that thing over there.” Six years later, doctors diagnosed Lang with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the immune system. Lang, 34, is among thousands of veterans who blame an illness on open-air trash burning at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. They believe the U.S. government has failed to take responsibility for the consequences, likening the issue to Vietnam vets’ exposure to Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide. Lang and others have fought protracted battles to win coverage, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has declined to declare a cause of their illness or acknowledge that burn-pit smoke may have played a role. The agency has denied thousands of burn-pit exposure-related health claims, veterans advocates say. The VA maintains that research has so far failed to prove a link between exposure and long-term disease. “In general, the VA needs some scientific basis,” explained Paul Ciminera, director of the agency’s Post-9/11 Era Environmental Health Program. Major burn-pit studies are underway. In the meantime, vets are waiting for answers.
Five Wyoming veterans sue KBR over toxic burn pits in Iraq
Casper Star Tribune, October 9, 2015
Five Casper military veterans filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging they were exposed to toxic fumes when a Houston-based corporation improperly burned waste during the war in Iraq. Ochs Law Firm filed the suit against KBR Inc. in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. The suit is believed to be the first toxic burn pit case filed in Wyoming, according to the Casper-based law office. The suit states KBR was hired to handle waste disposal for American operations in Iraq. KBR failed to take necessary safety precautions and incinerated unsorted waste, including chemicals, in burn pits, exposing the soldiers to health-damaging toxins, the suit claims. The veterans named in the suit are Terrance Sordahl, Keith Jones, Laura Jones, James W. Savino III and Julia Savino. “It is imperative that our Wyoming-US soldiers be given the voice and legal remedies they deserve,” attorney Jason Ochs said in a news release. A phone call to KBR’s headquarters in Houston, Texas, was not returned Friday. The veterans are suffering from respiratory health problems including bronchial infections, upper respiratory infections, shortness of breath, wheezing, inability to exercise for extended periods of time and gag-reflex issues, according to the suit. Several soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with tumors, the lawsuit claims. The Veteran Affairs Medical Centers have created a burn pit registry, which the Casper veterans are a part of. The lawsuit asserts no limitations were put on the waste that was dumped into the burn pits. The waste included human corpses and body parts, medical supplies and waste, metals, hydraulic fluids, munitions boxes, paints, solvents, polyvinyl chloride pipes, plastics, pesticides and batteries. According to the lawsuit, the smoke from the burn pits was sometimes blue or green and very thick. The suit alleges KBR’s managers knew the dangers of the burn pits. The lawsuit requests monetary relief from KBR for medical expenses, pain and suffering and emotional distress.
Ailing vets sue, say toxic burn pits cost them their health (Santa Fe New Mexican)
Santa Fe New Mexican, July 25, 2015
Hundreds of soldiers who’ve come home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now are battling the very companies that helped operate their base camps, claiming constant exposure to toxins from open-air burn pits has wrecked their health.David Montoya, 44, of Farmington, N.M., is one of newest litigants suing the companies. Cancer that started in his colon has spread to his lungs, and his doctor told him in February that he had about two years to live. Montoya says the cause of his cancer was contaminated water supplied by the military contractors, and from breathing in smoke from the burn pits. Montoya filed his lawsuit last week in state District Court in Santa Fe against Halliburton Co., KBR Inc. and Kellogg, Brown & Root Services LLC. In doing so, he joined almost 250 other former and active military personnel who are suing the companies, which provided water treatment and waste disposal services in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two other soldiers from New Mexico, both in poor health, jointly filed a suit against the companies six years ago. At one point, a federal judge in Maryland rejected suits against the military contractors, but an appeals court reversed that decision. With the case alive, soldiers who are dying say they have a chance to shed light on wartime actions that placed profits over people. Burn pits were part of the American war effort as a means of keeping bases functional. Afire constantly, they burned plastics, metals, chemicals and every form of waste, say soldiers who served at the outposts. Contaminated jet fuel often ignited the burn pits. The companies being sued say their work was critical to America’s war effort, not a detriment to American soldiers. One company summed up its position in an email last week: “KBR provided a critical service to the Army under dangerous conditions, and to the exacting standards of the Army’s guidelines and contract for waste disposal. KBR personnel performed admirably under extreme conditions to safely and effectively dispose of tons of waste material. We will vigorously defend any allegations to the contrary.” The company has argued in court that it can’t be held liable for wartime decisions made by the U.S. military, and that it was essentially following orders given by the government when it created the burn pits.
Report: Lung disease, high blood pressure common in vets exposed to burn pits
Military Times, July 22, 2015
Troops who worked at burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those exposed to multiple dust storms during war-zone deployments, have higher rates of common respiratory illnesses like asthma and emphysema, as well as rare lung disorders, according to data drawn from the Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Service members who experienced frequent exposures to dust and burn pits also report increased health problems like insomnia and high blood pressure. But they don’t appear to have higher rates of cancer when compared with troops who deployed but had little or no such exposure, according to a new Department of Veterans Affairs report. The findings, in a report posted online by VA in June, are based on questionnaires completed by more than 28,000 veterans. The database allows any former service members who think they were exposed to fumes from burn pits or other sources of pollutants, such as sandstorms or dust, to register their health concerns with VA. Nearly 46,000 veterans have opened accounts with the registry, with about 60 percent fully completing the questionnaire as of Dec. 31, 2014. Of those who finished the lengthy questionnaire, 27,378 said they were exposed to burn pits, and 24,782 said they had dust storm exposure at some point during deployment. According to the report, 30 percent of participants who said they were exposed to burn pits say they’ve been diagnosed with respiratory diseases other than allergies, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis topping the list. High blood pressure was diagnosed in about one-third of personnel who reported burn-pit exposure and one-third who said they were exposed to dust storms.
DoD stonewalls Freedom of Information Act request from ailing vet
Breitbart.com, May 27, 2015
A veteran has sought information about Fort McClellan’s chemical contamination from the Department of Defense since last year, but his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has gone unanswered. Raymond Pulliam – a 53-year-old veteran – was forced to retire in 2012 due to health issues he believes were caused by toxic contamination at Fort McClellan, where he was stationed in 1979 for basic training. A previous report from Breitbart News and The Washington Times exposed a high-ranking official’s email putting budget concerns over veteran health issues tied to Fort McClellan. The Washington Times reported “a top Obama administration appointee declared to Congress that the Pentagon doesn’t want to spend the money to alert hundreds of thousands of soldiers who served at a once-contaminated Army base that they may have been exposed to toxins.” “The cost of attempting to identify all these individuals, including the cost of media advertising, would be a significant burden on the Army’s budget and at a time when the Army is furloughing personnel due to a shortage of funds,” Elizabeth King, the Pentagon’s top liaison to Congress, wrote in an internal email to a House staffer in 2013,” as reported in the Times. The story documents the long-term concerns over chemical contamination at Fort McClellan, located near Anniston, Alabama – one of the most toxic cities in America, according to earlier news reports. The Army Chemical school was located at Fort McClellan and was the site where live chemical weapon training occurred. Nerve agents and sulfur mustard were tested there. The Environmental Protection Agency closed the base in 1999, declaring it a high-priority Superfund clean up site because the activities “generated solid and liquid wastes that contaminated soil and ground water,” according to EPA records. Veterans who served at Fort McClellan have complained for decades about illnesses they believe were caused by the chemical exposure. “But the Pentagon has not undertaken an effort to track down and alert veterans to their possible exposure,” the Washington Times report noted. “The U.S. government did not join a legal settlement a decade ago with chemical giant Monsanto Co., whose operations were accused of polluting Anniston-area soil and water.”
Bill requires VA to study burn pit effects in Iraq, Afghanistan vets
WNPR, May 11, 2015
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty is sponsoring a bill to have the federal VA create a research center focused on the health of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who were exposed to burn pits. Burn pits were used to get rid of all kinds of garbage on military bases. James Rizzio is a 28-year-old Army veteran who served one year in Iraq. He said part of his job as a Unit Supply Specialist meant disposing of things at the burn pit at his base, COB Speicher, once or twice a week. He said, “On more than one occasion gone in there and seen anything from vehicle tires and car batteries to regular lithium batteries and latex paint. Pretty much everything and anything that you might find over there.” Rizzio said most veterans were exposed to the burn pits in some way, “Especially the ones that had an active burn pit on their location that ran 24/7,” Rizzio said. “Everybody on that base was breathing that stuff in.” So far, he hasn’t had any health conditions spring up that could be related to the burn pits but he knows other veterans who believe their health problems have been caused by what they were breathing in while serving. Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty said she’s heard from many veterans in her district on this issue and thinks the federal VA should be doing more. Esty said, “They had aerosol cans, pesticides, asbestos, human waste you name it, when all of these things are burned produce really noxious, dangerous smoke and gases and we really do need to study this much better.” Last year, the federal VA started a burn pit registry to gather information on veterans who’ve been exposed. Rizzio just learned about it at a recent Esty forum so he signed up but he said there are many veterans who don’t know about it. In a statement, the Connecticut VA Healthcare system said information is given to veterans in a number of ways including outreach events and during initial clinical evaluations by patient aligned care teams or primary care provider. Meanwhile, there are lawsuits pending by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who’ve sued military contractors for operating the burn pits saying they have caused health problems like cancer and respiratory issues.
Exposure to toxic burn pits the new Agent Orange
WTNH-Connecticut, May 8, 2015
Some are calling toxic “burn pits” near military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan the “new Agent Orange.” Veterans at an event in Waterbury, Conn., say they had to live and breath contaminated air from the burn pits for extended periods of time, and now they’re worried about their health. This appears to be emerging as a new health problem for veterans coming home from the recent wars. It’s now being reported that some active duty personnel have complained about respiratory difficulties and headaches, and now disability claims are staring to show up. Some veterans say the pits burn constantly and fumes are spread through sandstorms. They say the military puts everything from batteries to munitions and plastics in the burn pits because it’s easier than packing the stuff up for proper disposal. “I’ve heard from individual service men and women pretty much every time I have a veterans’ event that involves Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” said Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn. “I hear from them, ‘oh and by the way, there were these burning pits of tires and munition, batteries and human waste,’ and it’s appalling.” The V.A. has admitted some veterans could have long-term aftereffects, especially those with preexisting conditions like asthma or other heart or lung conditions. They have established a burn pit exposure registry and are conducting research into it.
Bill calls for DoD to publish toxic exposure evidence
Military.com, April 24, 2015
A new bill in Congress would require the Defense Department to declassify documents on troops who were exposed to toxic substances and shed new light how exposure affects children. Military records on incidents that exposed at least 100 service members would be released under the bill, which has been introduced in the House and Senate. It would also create a national institute and advisory panel to study the health of troops’ descendants. The proposed law is early in the legislative process and had a first hearing before a House subcommittee Thursday. Similar proposals championed by veterans groups have failed, but if passed it could provide a wealth of new information on long-running health concerns that span from Agent Orange in Vietnam to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We believe this may be the most important bill for vets since the Agent Orange Act in 1991,” which extended benefits to those with conditions connected to the herbicide, said John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America, which has backed the bill. The open records measure would require the DoD to provide enough information on toxic events to determine whether a service member was exposed, the potential severity and what health conditions might result.
Researchers investigate respiratory health of deployed personnel
Army.mil, Feb. 19, 2015
Military personnel who deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, or OIF, Operation Enduring Freedom, or OEF, or Operation New Dawn, or OND, were commonly exposed to airborne hazards such as dust and smoke, Army Medicine researchers say. Some may have developed respiratory diseases and still have medical consequences as a result. Army Medicine researchers are continuing to investigate possible long-term effects of this exposure, and need your help. Col. (Ret.) Michael J. Morris, M.D., San Antonio Military Medical Center, is the lead investigator for the Study of Active Duty Military for Pulmonary Disease Related to Environmental Deployment Exposures, also known as STAMPEDE. Dr. Morris and his team need volunteers who deployed to OIF, OEF, or OND, developed respiratory symptoms while deployed, and who still show these symptoms to assist with a research study. The STAMPEDE team aims to enroll 300 patients (from any branch of military service). The following are study eligibility requirements for individuals who would like to be considered for STAMPEDE:
1. Deployment to OIF/OEF/OND on active-duty status;
2. Developed chronic respiratory symptoms during or soon after deployment;
3. Can exercise on a treadmill;
4. Had no history of pre-existing lung disease before deployment;
5. Are able to spend a week in San Antonio for testing procedures;
6. Can provide civilian or Veterans Affairs, or VA, medical records (if available).
Participants enrolled in the study will undergo a standardized testing protocol to include: surveys, blood work, chest imaging, echocardiography (examination of the heart), several different breathing tests, exercise testing, laryngoscopy (vocal cord examination), and bronchoscopy (airway examination). While there is no guarantee of benefit from joining the study, it is possible that participants will benefit from identification and evaluation of shortness of breath and learning if any lung disease related to deployment is the cause of this shortness of breath.
After husband’s death, widow warns of burn pits used in Iraq
KSHB-Kansas City, Feb. 19, 2015
The widow of a Raytown veteran killed by a rare and aggressive cancer says she’s convinced her husband’s illness was brought on by his exposure to toxic fumes from “burn pits” during his service in Iraq. Now she’s warning other veterans to speak to their doctors about risks associated with the pits. Sgt. Matthew Gonzales received a diagnosis of Esthesioneuroblastoma four years after returning from Tikrit, where he worked regularly near a burn pit used to dispose of medical waste by burning it with jet fuel in a large open pit. “One thing that caught me off guard is that they didn’t have any protective gear covering themselves,” his widow, Elizabeth, said of a video her husband showed her of the pit. “I asked about that, and he felt confident saying, ‘The government wouldn’t put us in any harm’s way. They’re going to protect us.’” After an oral surgeon discovered the mass that turned out to be the start of her husband’s cancer, Elizabeth Gonzales now says that’s exactly what the government did. “The surgeon said that exposure to different toxicities like sands and paints and things like that would cause a person to get this type of cancer,” Gonzales told 41 Action News. “I started researching burn pits and found out that there’s thousands of soldiers and contractors who are reporting different medical issues since their exposure to burn pits.”
Watchdog: DoD ignored risks, continued to burn trash in Afghanistan
Stars & Stripes, Feb. 12, 2015
The U.S. military knowingly put troops’ health at risk and wasted tens of millions of dollars on shoddy contracts while operating dangerous open-air burn pits in Afghanistan, according to a report from the government’s top watchdog there. “Although DOD knew about the risks associated with open-air burn pits long before contingency operations began in Afghanistan, it was not until 2009 that U.S. Central Command developed policies and procedures to guide solid waste management, including requirements for operating, monitoring, and minimizing the use of open-air burn bits,” according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. It’s still unclear how many troops were sickened by burn pits but their widespread use in Iraq and Afghanistan — sometimes against Central Command’s own directives — means related illnesses could represent the latest health crisis for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, with echoes of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Many troops who say they were downwind from the smoke from base burn pits have reported a wide range of maladies, including severe respiratory problems. At the mission’s peak in 2011, when there 110,000 American troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. military was producing 440 tons of waste per day. Despite a 2009 U.S. Central Command rule that bases over a certain size were to find alternatives to burn-pits in order to dispose of waste, many bases continued to use the pits, even burning prohibited items, such as batteries and tires, according to the report. As late as August 2010, Central Command reported that there were 251 active open-air burn pits in Afghanistan. “The overall approach to its solid waste disposal in Afghanistan was haphazard and reactive,” the report says.
Possible relief for vets sick from war zone burn pits?
The Daily Beast, February 2, 2015
Commentary: “In 2008, I received a memo from an Air Force bioenvironmental flight commander, Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, saying that the troops at Air Base Balad were being exposed to “an acute health hazard.” At that point, no one had reported on the burn pits, which were used by the military and its contractors to dispose of trash at almost every base in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reporters figured everyone could see them—flames from Balad’s pit rose so high pilots used it as a landmark—so they must be OK. But the troops were worried. Commanders feared for their own health. And nobody wanted to see the dog who wandered the base with amputated body parts in his mouth that he had dug out of the burn pit. At Balad, fire consumed 240 tons of trash in an open pit every day. Black smoke billowed across the base. Tinier bases had tinier pits, but those pits burned everything from Styrofoam to old computers to unexploded ordnance. I talked to hundreds of people who believed they were sick from the burn pits. Airmen who had been stationed a mile up the road from Balad’s pit returned with respiratory diseases, immune-system issues and cancer. One hopeful young combat vet died within weeks of my conversation with her. The reporting led to Congressional hearings, a ban on burn pits and a burn pit registry. But it’s not enough. Recently, the Supreme Court found that lawsuits against the American contractor that operated the burn pits, KBR, could move forward. KBR had argued that it couldn’t be sued because it had operated the burn pits for the government. The Court issued no statement, but the lawsuits will go back to trial courts. This brings me hope for all of our veterans—not just those involved in this case.”
Supreme Court allows lawsuits over burn pits, electrocutions
Stars & Stripes, January 20, 2015
The Supreme Court is allowing lawsuits involving open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and a soldier’s electrocution in a base shower to move forward against two of the largest American military contractors, according to wire reports. The lawsuits were filed against KBR Inc. and Halliburton Co., which had filed appeals saying the lawsuits should be thrown out because the company was operating as an arm of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of the lawsuits include claims that troops suffered health problems related to their exposure to burn pits and toxic chemicals on American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another claims that shoddy electrical work led to the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who was killed in a base shower in Iraq. In general, the government cannot be sued in such cases, but private contractors working on behalf of the government have presented a legal gray area. Supreme Court justices offered no comment for their decision, according to the Associated Press. The Obama administration has sided with the contractors. Open burning of waste was commonplace at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many troops suspect respiratory problems they have suffered after their deployments may be linked the clouds of smoke that often hung over bases. The burn pit decision could open the door to thousands of troops who were potentially exposed to toxic chemicals and encourage more law firms to take up their cases, said Kelly Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Bergmann and Moore law firm, which focuses on veterans’ claims.
Kansas veteran worries exposure to hazardous fumes cause of health problems
The Salina Post, December 30, 2014
Four months ago, U.S. Army veteran Brandon Garrison played in an all-day softball tournament, a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project. “The tournament was on a Saturday,” Garrison said. “The next day I woke up and I couldn’t walk.” Garrison, a 28-year-old from Leavenworth, experienced debilitating muscle pain for several days and was hospitalized at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facility. He left with a cane that he was still using last month. After multiple wartime deployments to Afghanistan as an infantryman and a supply specialist, Garrison has health conditions that are explainable: traumatic brain injury from the concussive blasts of explosives and post-traumatic stress disorder from the strain of combat. But he also has conditions that are harder to explain: nerve twitches, muscle weakness, fibromyalgia, chronic prostatitis, low testosterone. In researching those symptoms in U.S. soldiers, he came across websites like Burn Pits 360, where other veterans discussed the potential hazards associated with the massive open air burn pits used to dispose of waste at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Garrison used those pits in his supply role. He remembered some of the things that were thrown into them: feces, human remains, the carcasses of diseased animals, batteries, spent ammunition casings, medical waste. “We were taking used vehicle parts that had transmission fluid, hydraulic fluid, things like that and throwing them in these burn pits,” he said. “My job was to turn this stuff in. If it’s unserviceable, we disposed of it. Tires. Paint, I’m sure. Any one of those things, if you burn it stateside, you can get written up for it because it’s a hazard.” At the time, he didn’t think about it. He was worried about other things. But now he wonders what he might have inhaled, and how much of it. “I was making multiple trips to these burn pits a day,” Garrison said. “Multiple.”
Toxic trash contamination on U.S. military bases
Global Research, December 8, 2014
America’s military is the world’s greatest polluter. Especially in war theaters. During conflicts. Long after they end. Notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. Toxic wastelands and then some. Large areas unsafe for human habitation. Military operations generate hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic waste. Dangerous carcinogens. Including depleted uranium, heavy metals, hazardous chemicals, plastics, solvents, asbestos, pesticides, petroleum fuels, fungi, and bacteria. Poisoning air, water and soil. Affecting local populations and US forces. Causing virtually every imaginable health problem. Many longterm. Debilitating. Others potentially fatal. Including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal ailments, kidney and liver diseases, respiratory, skin and other infections, asthma, immune system suppression, ulcers, birth defects, severe headaches, emotional distress, pulmonary problems, sexual dysfunction and chronic diarrhea. Open-air burn pits as large as 10 acres bear much responsibility. Used to incinerate trash. Notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. State-of-the-art incinerators when used release heavy metals, unburned toxic chemicals and entirely new ones during incineration. Hundreds. Potentially thousands. Many unidentified. Many more toxic than original waste burned. Remaining longterm. Some producing virtual permanent contamination. Once released, traveling vast distances. Via air and water currents. Producing global contaminants.
Former VA official: Burn pits could be the new Agent Orange
Al Jazeera America, December 3, 2014
Anthony Thornton has trouble speaking, can’t read anymore and has trouble keeping up with his 3-year-old daughter. He said he doesn’t remember everybody’s name. Thornton, 35, suffers from a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. Doctors had to take out parts of his brain – his temporal lobe and part of his hippocampus. “I’ve lost a lot, and what I would like to do, I don’t really have that anymore,” said Anthony Thornton. “I don’t like being like this.” Thornton believes he got sick from toxins he was exposed to from massive, open-air burn pits while serving his country. Burn pits operated on U.S. military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan. At the height of the wars, more than 250 bases burned their trash, releasing large plumes of black smoke into the air. “During the daytime, it was solid black. You could smell it,” he said. “And depending on where the sun was, it was so thick, it would block some of the sun.” Thornton was a staff sergeant and worked as a prison guard at Camp Bucca in Iraq. He said the smoke from burn pits lingered above his living quarters. He was diagnosed with asthma and bronchitis while he was in Iraq. Three years after he came home, doctors found the tumor. Kerry Baker is a former Veterans Affairs official who has analyzed the toxins found in burn pit smoke. For three years since he left the agency, he’s been fighting to get the Department of Defense and the VA to recognize that burn pit exposure has sickened veterans. “Some of them are dying,” Baker said. “We have claims from widows whose [spouses] have died from various types of cancers. We have claims from young guys who just have diabetes or have lymphoma or have leukemia. I think it absolutely could be this generation’s Agent Orange.”
U.S. practices in Iraq questioned by public health researchers
The Michigan Daily, October 8, 2014
Two experts in the field of Iraqi public health gave a lecture Wednesday night on the increase of birth defects in the war-torn nation. Muhsin Al-Sabbak, a physician at Iraq’s Basra Maternity Hospital, and Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist who resides in Ann Arbor, presented a one-hour lecture centered on their research, which links the increase in congenital birth defects in Iraq over the last two decades to the use of U.S. and coalitions force weapons there. Al-Sabbak referenced his study that found a 17-fold increase in children with birth defects between the years 1995 and 2003, a jump from 1.37 birth defects per 1,000 children to 23 per 1,000. By 2008, the number had increased to 48 per 1000, and in 2014 it was 37 per 1000. Savabieasfahani attributed the spike to an increase in pollutants caused by U.S. weapons and the presence of military bases. “The most important event that happened in these years was U.S. invasion and U.S. bombardments,” Savabieasfahani said. “As much as we don’t like to get into politics, pollution is a very political thing.” Savabieasfahani said bombs, bullets and explosives increase the amount of toxic metal such as lead and mercury in the environment. She also said U.S. military bases often have “open air burn pits,” or pits in which they burn disregarded military waste, releasing dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere that are inhaled by individuals in the area.
Survey: Many vets blame burn pits for their medical problems
9 News Colorado, August 1, 2014
An exhaustive survey of more than 2,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suggests many veterans believe their medical problems have direct ties to the long-standing military practice of burning waste in open-air burn pits. More than half of the veterans who responded to the 2014 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association member survey said they feel they have symptoms associated with exposure to open-air burn pits. In addition, the survey found more than three-quarters of respondents had some sort of exposure to burn pits during their deployments. For years, the military burned waste in open-air burn pits next to numerous bases in Iraq and Afghanistan frequently with the help of private contractors. The practice prompted a yet to be settled class-action lawsuit against KBR and Halliburton which alleges the smoke from the pits caused everything from lung problems to fatal tumors. It’s alleged everything from amputated body parts and needles to plastics and Styrofoam was burned in the pits for years. The Department of Defense along with the Department of Veterans Affairs has routinely stated they believe there have been no long-term health problems directly linked to burn pits.
U.S. military is scrutinized over trash burning in Afghanistan
The New York Times, July 22, 2014
The United States military spent millions of dollars on garbage incinerators in Afghanistan that went unused as tons of trash burned in open piles, wafting toxic smoke over thousands of troops, according to a report released Tuesday by an American watchdog agency. The new report focused on Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan but echoed the findings of three previous reports by the agency, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, since April 2013. All found that the Defense Department wasted millions of dollars on incinerators at major bases that operated at a fraction of capacity — if at all — while the open burning of toxic material continued. The reports also concluded that the military in Afghanistan violated regulations put in place by Congress and the Pentagon to end large-scale open-pit trash burning after the health risks of the practice gained national attention during the war in Iraq. Despite these regulations, every base in Afghanistan visited by inspectors continued to burn waste, including tires, plastics, batteries and other potentially toxic junk, in open pits, sometimes shunting the smoky job off to Afghan troops. And though a 2010 law requires the military to notify Congress whenever certain toxic materials are burned, the report said no notifications were sent.
How to stop burn pits from becoming the next Agent Orange
National Journal, July 10, 2014
The Obama administration prides itself on righting the sins of past regimes, including expanding access to health care for Vietnam veterans who suffered from exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange. But veterans groups worry the administration is on track to repeat past mistakes by refusing thousands of disability claims that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say are related to breathing toxic fumes from open burn pits—which were used for years to discard everything from trash and human waste to vehicles and batteries. The Veterans Affairs Department finally opened a congressionally mandated online registry for burn-pit victims late last month, and lawmakers are starting to look at how to move forward on helping veterans who believe their illnesses—ranging from bronchitis to cancer—are tied to exposure to the fumes. Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico is working on legislation that requires the VA to establish a research network to study the impact of open burn pits on soldiers and veterans. And Sen. Bob Corker—who previously worked with Udall to spearhead burn-pit legislation in the Senate—said that “the VA must ensure this law is implemented effectively and fix any remaining problems with the online Open Burn Pit Registry.”
Iraq war vet lived to see the birth of burn pit registry for ill troops
NBC News, July 8, 2014
A new federal registry of U.S. troops and veterans possibly sickened by toxic smoke in Iraq and Afghanistan has gathered nearly 11,000 eligible names -– including the ill airman who inspired the site but expected to die before it launched. “What I really feel is relief. It’s been a battle,” said Master Sgt. Jessey Baca, 54, a member of the New Mexico Air National Guard. He and his wife, Maria, began pushing for the registry in 2010. “When I started, I figured I might not be alive to see it.” Baca, who maintained fighter jets during two Iraq tours, has constrictive bronchiolitis. The airway-plugging malady is, “in certain situations, a progressive, terminal disease,” said Dr. Robert Miller, a Nashville-based pulmonologist who performed lung biopsies to diagnose the ailment in Baca plus about 65 other troops and veterans. Like dozens of recent war veterans, Baca blames his fading body on combat time spent working, eating and sleeping near a huge, open-air “burn pit.” The U.S. military used such trenches throughout Iraq and Afghanistan to incinerate mounds of battle trash: Humvees, unexploded ordnance, rocket launchers, bloody gauze, body parts and more.
New research links Iraq dust to ill soldiers
USA Today, June 2, 2014
Titanium and other metals found in dust at a base in Iraq have been linked to the dust found in six sick soldiers’ lungs, according to a study. “We biopsied several patients and found titanium in every single one of them,” said Anthony Szema, an assistant professor at Stony Brook School of Medicine who specializes in pulmonology and allergies. “It matched dust that we have collected from Camp Victory” in Iraq. The dust is different from dust found elsewhere in that human lungs are unable to dispel it through natural immune-system processes. The Iraq dust comes attached to iron and copper, and it forms polarizable crystals in the lungs, Szema said. The particles — each bit 1/30th the size of a human hair — have sharp edges. “They’ve inhaled metal,” Szema said. “It’s not a little; it’s a lot.” All of the veterans came in for help because they were short of breath, said Szema, who also heads the allergy clinic at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport, N.Y. Dozens have been diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis, a narrowing of the lung’s smallest passageways that occurs only after exposure to an environmental toxin or in lung-transplant patients.
Contractor KBR asks Supreme Court to rule on burn pit lawsuits
Military Times, May 7, 2014
Government contractor KBR will find out this year whether the Supreme Court will consider a group of lawsuits filed against the company for its operation of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Houston-based firm has petitioned the court to hear arguments in the case of Alan Metzgar et. al. v. KBR Inc., a collection of class-action and individual suits alleging that KBR and former parent company Halliburton acted negligently when operating the burn pits for the U.S. military, exposing troops to toxic fumes and pollutants. KBR is arguing that the case, which in March was sent back for reconsideration to its original court by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, should be heard by the high court because it addresses issues of constitutional law on combatant activities and contract support. “In Vietnam, people who were drafted, they drove the trucks, they did the laundry, cooked the food — all the things that have been outsourced by the Army were done by soldiers,” KBR counsel Mark Lowes said. “I don’t see us ever going back [to that]. Contractors are going to be tied to the military from here on out, and it behooves the court to tell us how that relationship is going to work.”
Veterans of the burn pits
The American Conservative, May 2, 2014
Sgt. Daniel Meyer doesn’t need anyone to tell him that the poison he sucked into his lungs at the Joint Base Balad burn pit in Iraq is to blame for the fact that he’s now a 29-year-old trapped in an old man’s body. But it is helpful that doctors have made it official in his medical records. Meyer has Bronchiolitis Obliterans (as bad as it sounds), for which he is on four liters of oxygen a day, as well as fatty tumors of the legs, which keep him wheelchair-bound. His service connection affords him generous VA home health care, since he can no longer leave the house. Even Meyer, featured recently in the Washington Post, admits his case was so severe that the VA could not deny him. But what about all the men and women who came home with respiratory problems, perhaps not quite as severe but debilitating nonetheless, who don’t know where they got it or where to turn for a proper diagnosis? The VA and Department of Defense have yet to fully recognize that toxic exposures—primarily from the burn pits on all major U.S bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also from heavy metals in the sand and dust —are to blame.
‘Environmental poisoning’ of Iraq is claimed
The New York Times, March 26, 2014
An advocacy group representing American military veterans and Iraqi civilians arrived here on Wednesday armed with a message for the United States government: Washington must do something for the thousands of people suffering from what the group called the “environmental poisoning” of Iraq during the war. The group, Right to Heal, says that veterans and civilians continue to feel the effects of the burn pits — banned by Congress four years ago — that were used to dispose of military waste, and that new health problems arise every day for Iraqis. “Things are worse off today by a thousandfold,” Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, said during a hearing in the House on Wednesday morning that featured witnesses from Right to Heal. Several hours later, Right to Heal called its own “people’s hearing” at a Quaker meeting house in Washington. One witness there, John Tirman, executive director and principal research scientist at the M.I.T. Center for International Studies, said that in playing down the health effects of the war, American officials had violated “the trust we place in government, that is, that they would be accountable to us even in the most severe times of war.”
Federal court allows burn pit lawsuit to advance
Military Times, March 7, 2014
A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a collection of lawsuits over the use of open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, a decision that allows the litigation against contracting giant KBR to continue. The civil cases — 58 separate class actions and individual suits known as Alan Metzgar et. al. v. KBR — allege that KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton, acted negligently as the Pentagon’s largest logistics contractor in the region, willfully burning items that employees should not have placed in the pits and exposing troops to toxic fumes and pollutants. A three-judge panel from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled unanimously Thursday that the suits can continue because the defendants have not sufficiently demonstrated that they were acting under military orders.The judges also concluded that KBR doesn’t necessarily share the same immunity that the military has from litigation over injuries in war zones, even if the company was directly supporting the Defense Department.
Study: Soil dust suspected in illnesses among Iraq vets
Military Times, February 20, 2014
When Army Sgt. Jayson Williams deployed to Iraq in 2003, he was a healthy 33-year-old who enjoyed the outdoors, running and playing with his son. When he returned home, he found he couldn’t do routine chores without becoming exhausted or needing to take deep breaths. He deployed twice more, and his condition worsened. First thought to be emphysema, his diagnosis later was changed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And after having an invasive lung biopsy, he received even grimmer news — constrictive bronchiolitis, an irreversible lung disease that robs a patient of lung function. Williams thinks his condition is the result of smoke from a burn pit near his barracks and fumes of a sulfur mine fire that raged for a month near Mosul, spewing toxic materials into the air. But a growing body of research indicates another factor may contribute to long-term respiratory diseases of veterans like Williams: microscopic dust particles containing heavy metals and other toxins. A long-term study has found that 14 percent of deployed troops reported chronic respiratory symptoms such as cough, bronchitis, shortness of breath and asthma, compared with 10 percent who did not deploy. The results suggest specific exposures, rather than long exposures, may play a role — particularly among ground troops who deployed to the desert environment of the Persian Gulf.
DoD expands lung cancer screening for veterans
Army Times, November 12, 2013
A third military hospital has begun offering lung cancer screenings for patients considered to be at high risk for developing the disease. The Naval Medical Center San Diego has joined Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., in offering the screenings for smokers or former smokers over age 55 who averaged a pack of day for 30 years. The broadening military lung cancer detection program puts the Defense Department at the forefront of lung cancer death prevention, said Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Lung Cancer Alliance, adding that the civilian community is just starting to embrace the practice. “It’s heartening. [The military] did not have to do this, but they knew it was the ethical thing to do. It shows that the leadership of the military health system is forward-thinking,” Ambrose said during a screening awareness event at Walter Reed on Nov. 6. In late July, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft recommendation proposing that those considered at high risk for developing lung cancer be screened.
Military’s open burn pits have left a generation of troops with health problems
Business Insider, November 5, 2013
One of the most dangerous hazards of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was a product of the U.S. military, according to a new investigative report by The Verge’s Katie Drummond. U.S. soldiers have been coming home with respiratory issues that they say are a result of the noxious fumes spewing from burn pits on U.S. Military bases. Burn pits, many as large as 10 acres wide, have been used extensively on military bases to incinerate the Army’s trash since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The military burned nearly everything in the pits, including plastic, styrofoam, electronics, metal cans, rubber, ammunition, explosives, feces, lithium batteries and even human body parts, according to a 2010 report from The New York Times’ James Risen. There have been numerous news stories since 2008 detailing the dangers of burn pits and investigating their effects. Over that time, military officials have resolutely denied any connection between the burn pits and soldiers’ health concern. The Department of Defense’s position, unchanged since 2008, is that the pits “may cause temporary coughing and redness or stinging of the eyes” but that they “usually do not cause lasting health effects…” This is in contrast to reports from soldiers who have come back with asthma, chronic bronchitis, constrictive bronchiolitis, and, in some cases, terminal Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Why our military’s burn pits are making soldiers sick
The Verge, October 28, 2013
To an unsuspecting eye, the Torres family home is indistinguishable from the other bungalows that line a flat, treeless stretch of road somewhere off US Route 77. Under an unforgiving Texas sun, the family’s golden retriever runs in circles around the parched lawn, pausing for breath in the shadow of an SUV parked out front. And inside, life appears perfectly normal. Framed photos of Rosie and Le Roy’s wedding and of their three teenaged children line the mantle. Tubs of peanut butter and jam sit open on a cluttered kitchen counter. The giggles of 16-year-old girls on summer vacation echo from down the hall. But upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a family under siege. Le Roy’s imposing physique still harkens back to his decades of law enforcement and military service, but his stature belies a profound physical frailty. One that becomes obvious the moment he speaks: Le Roy’s voice is meek, and his eyes water and hands shake slightly as his ailing lungs strain to expel a single sentence. When he talks about what happened to him, the shaking speeds up. And when he’s asked how his health problems have affected Rosie and the kids, who’ve spent the past five years wondering if today was the day he’d die, tears from those waterlogged eyes spill onto his cheeks. Le Roy, now 41, joined the Army at the age of 17 — before even finishing high school. After six years of active duty he enlisted in the reserves. But it wasn’t until 2007 that he was finally deployed overseas and served a one-year tour as a battalion personnel officer stationed out of Iraq’s Joint Base Balad. Since then, Le Roy has become increasingly ill. First it was incessant coughing, shortness of breath, crushing chest pain. Then came the headaches; agony so intense that Rosie would often drive Le Roy to the ER, convinced this was the end. And finally the gastrointestinal trauma: Le Roy recalls once passing a blood clot the size of a golf ball in a rest area bathroom. “I wondered all the time whether I would live to the next day,” he says. “Because it just kept getting worse and worse.” As Le Roy and Rosie struggled to understand his symptoms they also made a startling discovery: as the two are now acutely aware, Le Roy isn’t the only veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to suffer from mysterious illnesses. Thousands of others are complaining of breathing problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and even rare cancers. Some have already died of these ailments. A handful of health experts are now concerned that today’s veterans face an emerging epidemic, one threatening the lives of thousands of men and women — but neither the Department of Defense (DOD) nor the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concur. It’s a conflict that’s pitting Le Roy and Rosie, along with a growing number of veterans, politicians, doctors, and scientists against some of the two biggest institutions in the US government. And it’s all because of garbage.
Burn pit registry for veterans signed into law
Marine Corps Times, January 10, 2013
President Obama signed legislation Thursday requiring the Veterans Affairs Department to establish a registry for troops and veterans who lived and worked near open-air burn pits used to dispose waste in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas. In addition to including new requirements for providing a casket or urn for veterans with no known next of kin and establishing care for a military cemetery in the Philippines, the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans Benefits Improvement Act, S. 3202, aims to pinpoint the number of veterans who may have been exposed to burn-pit smoke so VA can track their medical histories and keep them apprised of new treatments for associated conditions. Troops deployed in support of contingency operations and stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used will be eligible to register. Veterans advocacy groups and families of service members who have become ill since their deployments hailed passage of the law as a “victory.” “It validates the truth behind every death, every illness associated with exposure,” said Rosie Lopez-Torres, co-founder of Burn Pits 360 and wife of former Army Capt. LeRoy Torres, who developed a rare lung disorder known as constrictive bronchiolitis after serving in Iraq.
Toxic Trash: The burn pits of Iraq and Afghanistan
The Oxford American, August 24, 2011
As it turns out, the eventual killer of Billy McKenna was lurking in the photographs he snapped in Iraq. Billy wrote captions beneath some of his photographs: typical day on patrol reads one. The photo is partially obscured by the blurred image of a soldier’s upraised hand. Brown desert unfurls away from a vehicle toward an empty horizon, and a wavering sky scorched white hovers above. Off to one side: Balad Air Base and the spreading umbrella of rising dank smoke from a burn pit. Billy told his wife, Dina, in e-mails from Iraq that the stench was killing him. The air so dirty it rained mud. He didn’t call them burn pits. She can’t recall what he called them. He didn’t mean killing him literally. Just that the overwhelming odor was god-awful and tearing up his sinuses. He didn’t wear a mask. It would not have been practical. In heat that soared above a hundred degrees, what soldier would wear one? Dina doesn’t know when she first heard the words “burn pit.” A Veterans Affairs doctor may have said it. The doctors were telling her a lot of things when Billy was on a ventilator. All she could think was, How can he have cancer? He’s indestructible. He’s been to hell and back. He can build houses, race cars, fish, camp. He was an Eagle Scout as a kid. He doesn’t smoke cigarettes. But Billy had been exposed to something much more harmful than cigarettes. Since 2003, defense contractors have used burn pits at a majority of U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan as a method of destroying military waste. The pits incinerate discarded human body parts, plastics, hazardous medical material, lithium batteries, tires, hydraulic fluids, and vehicles. Jet fuel keeps pits burning twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The U.S. government, however, has only recently acknowledged the harmful effects of burn pits. According to a report released last year by the United States Government Accountability Office, “burn pits help base commanders manage waste, but also produce smoke and harmful emissions that military and other health professionals believe may result in acute and chronic health effects to those exposed.”