Saturday, November 07, 2009


US Senator Byron Dorgan chaired the Senate Democratic Policy Committee's hearing yesterday on burn pits being used in Afghanistan and Iraq. (The video of the hearing has been posted at the DPC's website.) Joint Base Balad was the primary focus of the hearing but it wasn't the only base addressed. It was learned in the hearing that KBR intentionally ignored regulations, rules and warning and felt, as KBR employee and Iraq War veteran Rick Lamberth explained, "KBR figured that even if they did get caught, they had already made more than enough money to pay any fines and still make a profit." AP reports today that 4 Iraq War veterans filed suit against KBR yesterday.

Among the senators participating in yesterday's hearing was Blanche Lincoln. Ashley Blackstone (KTHV) reports on the hearing and a statement Lincoln issued after:

"As we approach Veterans Day, we are all reminded of the heroic service and sacrifice of our troops who give of themselves to protect the freedom of all Americans. As a grateful nation, we must do all we can to ensure that their health is not at risk as they fulfill their missions abroad. By reducing the prevalence of burn pits and transitioning to other methods of disposal, we can greatly improve the quality of life and health for our troops. Costs associated with these other disposal methods have been a barrier to their implementation. However, though costs may increase in the short-term, the long-term savings could be substantial. As burn pit use is reduced, related medical treatments will decline for the servicemen and women who are exposed to this hazardous smoke," said Lincoln.

We'll note Senator Byron Dorgan's prepared remarks for yesterday's hearing in full:

“Are Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan Making
Our Soldiers Sick?”
Friday, November 6, 2009
628 Dirksen Senate Office Building
This is the twenty-first in a series of oversight hearings conducted by the
Democratic Policy Committee to examine contracting fraud, waste, and
abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A number of the hearings that we have held have focused on the worst kind
of contract abuse: that which unnecessarily puts our troops’ lives in danger.
Today we are going to hear how, as early as 2002, U.S. military installations
in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits, disposing of
waste materials in a very dangerous manner.
We will hear how there were dire health warnings from Air Force officials
about the dangers of burn pit smoke. We will hear how there were
Department of Defense regulations in place that said that burn pits should
only be used in short-term emergency situations – regulations that have now
been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the
regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal,
Kellogg, Brown, and Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn
pits and exposed thousands of U.S. troops to toxic smoke.
I would like to show
two charts to give you
an idea of the
seriousness of this
Here is a photograph
showing the smoke
plume from a typical
burn pit being used by
KBR in Iraq:
And here is a list of some of the toxins that, according to an Air Force
briefing on the subject, could have been contained in burn pit smoke:
Now, I think it is important to understand that these burn pits were being
used at some very large, populated and well-established bases in Iraq,
six years after we had invaded Iraq.
In fact, burn pits are still used at the Balad Airbase in Iraq, which is the
largest U.S. base in that country. There are 20,000 troops based there,
making it equivalent to a small city. The base has good paved roads, two
large swimming pools with
diving wells, two PX's that
look like huge Americanstyle
supermarkets, five
mess halls, and a fullservice
movie theater
complete with a Dolby
surround sound system.
Here is a picture, for
instance, of one of the
buildings at the base, which
has a Subway sandwich
My point is that this is not a
makeshift base where one
would be surprised to find safe waste disposal with an incinerator. This is
the kind of base were our troops would logically expect that there would be
proper waste disposal.
So today we want to look at this practice of using burn pits, and examine
whether it is endangering our troops’ health. Witnesses will include former
military officials and KBR employees with first-hand experience of this
problem, as well as a medical expert on the health consequences of burn pit
Our first witness is Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a former Bioenvironmental Flight
Commander for Joint Base Balad from Arkansas, who wrote a 2006 memo
for the Pentagon warning of the acute health hazards associated with the
continued use of burn pits by private contractors. Mr. Curtis has a Ph.D.
in Environmental Engineering and has conducted health risk assessments for
the Air Force for almost 20 years.
Rick Lamberth is a former KBR employee from Maryland who worked on
logistics and helped KBR set up camps from Kuwait into Iraq. He is a longtime
Army reservist who became LOGCAP officer, deployed to Iraq, and
was exposed to burn pits.
Russell Keith served as a Medic for KBR at Balad Air Force Base from
2006 to 2007 and at Basra from 2008 to 2009 and currently resides in
Alabama. Mr. Keith treated many patients in Iraq who had respiratory
Finally, Anthony Szema is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Surgery
at Stony Brook University. Dr. Szema is also the Chief of the Allergy
Section at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport, NY.

If you [PDF format warning] click here, you can see the photos included in Senator Dorgan's statement.

While KBR workers, Iraq War veterans and Iraqis suffer, the children of the greedy rake it in. Sarah Yasmin Rifaat's nose indicates parents without the wherewithal to afford a good nose job but, in fact, she's the thirty-year-old daughter of Julie Hagemeister Rifaat and Maged Ibrahim Rifaat -- Mommy "is a senior corporate counsel at KRB". Well, looking at the photo, you knew Mommy wasn't a cover girl because no one ever taught Sarah how to apply eye make up or, in fact, when too much eye shadow was being used. Then again, maybe she was trick or treating as a street walker when the photo was taken.

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