Martin C. Evans

Burn pits expose soldiers to toxins, Congressman says

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm

The fuming trash dumps at US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan known as burn pits would be strictly limited if Long Island Congressman Tim Bishop has his way.

The pits, into which tons of plastics, medical waste, garbage and other potentially harmful stuff are swept every day, bathe soldiers living and working nearby in toxic smoke that some medical experts say may be harmful.

Sgt. Gary Richard, an Army reservist from Hauppauge who served two tours in Iraq, said smoke from burn pits at Camp Anaconda regularly filled his tent, and is responsible for the nagging cough and asthma he has endured since then.

Bishop introduced legislation his week that would prohibit the military from burning trash in a manner that would expose military personnel to dangerous toxins.

It would also require the military to create a medical registry of troops who have been exposed to chemical hazards released by burning refuse in the past.

The organization Disabled American Veterans, which has been pressing Congress for restrictions on the burn pits, says it has been contacted by more than 430 service members who attribute various illnesses to chemicals released from the pits.

Bishop’s legislation would strengthen regulations imposed by Congress in last year’s defense authorization bill.

That measure prohibited the Defense Department from disposing of medical waste and hazardous materials in burn pits in Iraq or Afghanistan unless the Secretary of Defense determined the military had no alternative.

Soldiers or their heirs have filed at least six lawsuits against defense contractor KRB, lleging that smoke from burn pits they managed in Iraq or Afghanistan was responsible for injuries or deaths.

Last month, the Defense Department announced it would again study possible long-term effects of breathing smoke from the pits.

But in the past, military officials have said burning spent uniforms and other equipment is needed to keep them from being falling into enemy hands.

And in announcing the new study, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said a prior study done at Iraq’s Balad Air Base – where the above picture was taken last March – showed no ill effects among personnel who were exposed to fumes.

“To date, we don’t have any information on any longer-term health risks that may be associated with burn pit smoke inhalation,” Whitman said.


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