Sure enough, the Pentagon confirms that it is burning hazardous and medical waste in at least 84 burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. They deny the pits create serious long-term health problems, but hundreds of soldiers and plenty of health experts disagree.
What’s being burned? Everything imaginable. If you have the stomach for it, here’s a list in no particular order, culled from various news sources: trucks, tires, lithium batteries, amputated body parts from Iraqi patients, hydraulic fluids, munitions boxes, petroleum-oil-lubricant (POL) products, medical waste, biohazard materials including human corpses, latrine waste, medical supplies used during small pox inoculations, paints, solvents, asbestos insulation, items containing pesticides, polyvinyl chloride pipes, animal carcasses, dangerous chemicals, hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles, bloody gauze, medics' biohazard bags and surgical gloves. And “jet fuel was sometimes used as an accelerant.”
What kind of illnesses seem to be resulting? Immediately after exposure troops apparently were “coughing up blood, vomiting and complaining of nausea or burning lungs.” Plus, various news sources report the following illnesses (aside from deaths, of course): Parkinson's disease, leukemia, lymphoma, congestive heart problems, neurological conditions, bronchitis, skin rashes, asthma, joint pain, muscle spasms, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain syndrome, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, frequent headaches, chest tightness, constant dry cough, increased allergic sensitivities, hypertension and/or “reactive airway dysfunction syndrome.”
How many vets/how many lawsuits? 500 vets are complaining of symptoms. And, “[m]ore than 280 veterans and contract workers have sued defense contractor KBR Inc.”
What’s the Pentagon’s position? Denial. From the LA Times: “A military environmental agency
that tested air samples from [recently shut] Balad in 2007 found dioxins,
metals, volatile organic compounds and other toxic substances in the smoke. But
in its report -- titled ‘Just the Facts’ -- the U.S. Army Center for Health
Promotion and Preventive Medicine said the substances ‘were within acceptable
standards” and that “no chemical concerns or significant health risks have been
identified,” although “smoke from any source, including burning trash, can
still cause temporary irritation effects.”
What do heath experts and others say? The LA Times reports,
”Dr. Anthony Szema, chief of the allergy section at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport, N.Y., said exposure to smoke and fumes from burning refuse can increase the risk of death from lung cancer or cardiovascular disease. Szema told a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing in November that burning plastic bottles produces dioxin and hydrochloric acid, and burning polystyrene foam cups produces dioxin, benzene and other carcinogens. ...
Chief Warrant Officer 5 John A. Wester, 59, a Special Forces soldier, blames his Hodgkin's disease on exposure to a burn pit at the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan. "The military wants to deny anything's wrong, just like with Agent Orange," Wester said. "But there’s no doubt in my military mind where I got my cancer."
Some things never change.