Burn Pits: the Agent Orange of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Monday, August 09, 2010
Burn pit at Bald Air Base in Iraq (photo: Julianne Showalter, U.S. Air Force)

Although no formal policy has been adopted for dealing with the problem, defense officials are moving closer to acknowledging the health consequences of open-pit burning on soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some soldiers who have developed serious respiratory conditions from working the pits have been discharged with full disability benefits. At the same time, the Department of Veterans Affairs is funding a study by the Institute of Medicine to determine the possible consequences of burn-pit exposure on military personnel. The VA also has told its staff to look out for veterans with illnesses with possible burn-pit symptoms.
The Department of Defense is conducting its own examination of burn pits, and has already shut down many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are presently 42 still operating in Iraq and 184 in Afghanistan.
Even though the military is moving more quickly to address the problem than it did during the Vietnam War and the controversy over defoliant Agent Orange, many soldiers and veterans aren’t waiting around for help to arrive. About 300 victims or their families have joined a class-action lawsuit against KBR, the military contractor that operated some burn pits at bases in Iraq. KBR’s defense is that the pits were operated by the Army or at the military’s direction.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Veterans Sound Alarm Over Burn-Pit Exposure (by James Risen, New York Times)


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