Friday, November 12, 2010

The burn pits


The burn pits. "While I was stationed at Balad, I experienced the effects of the massive burn pit that burned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The ten-acre pit was located in the northwest corner of the base. An acrid, dark black smoke from the pit would accumulate and hang low over the base for weeks at a time. Every spot on the base was touched by smoke from the pit; everyone who served at the base was exposed to the smoke. It was almost impossible to escape, even in our living units," L. Russell Keith explained to the Democratic Policy Committee November 6, 2009. Keith worked for KBR in Iraq at Joint Base Balad from March 2006 through July 2007. Like many service members and contractors, he was unnecessarily exposed to toxins which put his life at risk.

The Chair of the DPC, Senator Byron Dorgan, noted at the start of that day's hearing, "Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only 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 & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke."

At that day's hearing, Lt Col Darrin Curtis was among the witnesses and we'll note this exchange he had with Senator Dorgan.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Mr. Curtis, why did you decide to write the 2006 memorandum? And did anyone else at that point share your concerns about the health impact of burn pits?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, Senator, they did. The Chief of Air Space Medicine had the same concerns I did. The memo was initially written so that we could expedite the installation of the incinerators. From my understanding, there were spending limits of monies with health issues and not health issues so I wanted to write the report to show that there are health issues associated with burn pits so that we could hopefully accelerate the installation of the incinerators.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Of the type of burn pit you saw in Iraq in 2006 -- that's some while after the war began and infrastructure had been created and so on except without incinerators -- if something of that nature were occurring in a neighborhood here in Washington DC or any American city, what are the consequences to them?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: At least fines and possibly jail.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Because?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Of the regulations that are out there today.

Chair Byron Dorgan: Because it's a serious risk to human health?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, sir.

Chair Byron Dorgan: You say that when you arrived in Iraq an inspector for the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine -- which is CHPPM -- told you that the Balad burn pit was the worst environmental site that he has seen and that included the ten years he had performed environmental clean up for the Army and Defense's Logistic Agency. And yet in your testimony, you also say that CHPPM has done this study and says adverse health risks are unlikely. So you're talking about an inspector from CHPPM that says 'this is the worst I've seen' and then a report comes out later from CHPPM that says: "Adverse health risks are unlikely. Long-term health effects are not expected to occur from breathing the smoke." Contradiction there and why?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think any organization, you're going to have people with differences of opinion. But at CHPPM, I'm sure that was the same-same outcome there. Cause I don't know if that individual --

Chair Byron Dorgan: (Overlapping) Do you think that CHPPM -- do you think CHPPM assessment that's been relied on now is just wrong?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: (Overlapping) I think -- I think -- Senator, I think the hard line that there is no health effects is a -- is a very strong comment that we don't have the data to say. Do we have the data to say that it is a health risk? I don't think we have that either. But I do not think we have the data to say there is no health risk.

Chair Byron Dorgan: You are a bio-environmental engineer what is -- what is your own opinion? Without testing or data, you saw the burn pits, you were there, you hear the testimony of what went in the burn pits, you hear Dr. Szema's assessment. What's your assessment?

Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on.

And a lot of people have gotten sick and a lot of people have died. Throughout, those responsible have denied responsibility. Julie Sullivan (Oregonian) has been covering the burn pits for years and last night she reported:

Documents exchanged in an Oregon lawsuit suggest that Kellogg, Brown and Root managers had medical tests proving workers at an Iraqi water treatment plant had "significant exposure" to a cancer-causing chemical, and managers worried about KBR's liability as a result.
The minutes of an Oct. 2, 2003 meeting about blood and urine tests from workers at the Qarmat Ali plant contradicts KBR's long-standing claims that there was no medical evidence of harm. The documents also indicate KBR's top health, safety and environmental manager knew plant workers continued to use the toxic chemical long after health alarms were raised. While piles of the corrosion fighter containing hexavalent chromium blew in the desert wind, the workers inside mixing the material wore gas masks.

"The ones responsible" is a category that includes far more than KBR. KBR couldn't have gotten away with what they did without being waived through repeatedly. Last month, Matthew D. LaPlante (Salt Lake Tribune) explained the results of a new GAO report:

Although defense health experts have now conceded that many service members may have been made sick by the fumes, the military is continuing to break its own rules and is continuing to expose its members to potentially toxic emissions, according to a federal audit released Friday.
The report, from the Government Accountability Office, also concluded U.S. military leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to monitor burn pit emissions and have been slow to implement alternatives to open-air burning, such as filtered incinerators.
Finally, the report describes operations at four large military bases in Iraq where, investigators say, none of the active burn pits were in compliance with current environmental regulations.
"I wish I could say, 'Oh my. You're kidding. They're breaking the rules again?' but I'm really just sitting here thinking that nothing has changed," said Jill Wilkins, whose husband died days after being diagnosed with a brain tumor she believes may have been caused by his exposure to burn pit emissions during two tours of duty in Iraq.

In other news, Kevin Delaney (Kentucky Post) explains the 940th MP Company in Walton just received orders to deploy to Iraq and they "will be part of the largest mobilization of Kentucky National Guard troops since World War II."

The following community sites -- plus wowOwow,, Jane Fonda and On The Wilder Side -- updated last night:

And we'll close with this from Kenneth J. Theisen's "The Obama Administration: Covering up Old Crimes While Committing New Ones" (World Can't Wait):

Justice and accountability for the crimes of the Bush regime and the Obama administration have been denied once again this week by Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ). On November 09, 2010 Special Federal Prosecutor John Durham made it clear that he will not bring criminal charges against any of the CIA personnel involved in the destruction of videotapes depicting the torture of alleged “terrorists.”
The Obama administration is now covering up the cover up of torture crimes.
In 2005 the former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose A. Rodriguez, ordered torture tapes to be destroyed. The tapes showed torture during the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al_Rasim al-Nashiri by the CIA. Torture techniques such as waterboarding were used extensively by the CIA during these interrogations. Durham will not prosecute the CIA agents and CIA lawyers for their responsibility in the tapes’ destruction. After Rodriguez ordered the tapes destroyed the CIA’s top lawyers ok’d his order. The CIA kept this a secret from the 9/11 Commission, Congressional oversight committees, and various federal courts which had asked the CIA for records of the interrogation. But all this is fine with the Obama administration’s DOJ which has always done its best to conceal the crimes of the U.S. government.
Ironically the tapes were destroyed on November 9, 2005. DOJ made the announcement to clear all the criminals on the anniversary of the tapes destruction which is also the end of the five-year statute of limitations for filing charges of obstruction of justice related to the destruction. Previously, Attorney General Eric Holder had announced that DOJ would not prosecute anyone in the CIA for the actual torture committed by the agency, so this latest announcement should come as no surprise.
On November 8, 2010, the day before the above cover-up announcement, Obama’s DOJ went to federal court to justify the ongoing crimes of the Obama administration. DOJ argued that the president has the “authority” to order murders and that the courts have no right to review this “authority.”

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