Saturday, March 05, 2011

Burn Pits

Many veterans struggle with a number of issues. Some wounds of wars couldn't be prevented without preventing wars themselves. Other wounds could have been prevented and should have. In October of 2010 the GAO (US Government Accountability Office) released a report [PDF format warning] entitled "AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ: DOD Should Improve Adherence to Its Guidance on Open Pit Burning and Solid Waste Management." The report opens with:

The military has relied heavily on open pit burning in both conflicts, and operators of burn pits have not always followed relevant guidance to protect servicemembers from exposure to harmful emissions. According to DOD, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq generate about 10 pounds of solid waste per soldier each day. The military has relied on open pit burning to dispose of this waste mainly because of its expedience. In August 2010, CENTCOM estimated there were 251 burn pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq.
[. . .]

Lawsuits have been filed in federal court in at least 43 states in which current and former servicemembers have alleged, among other things, that a contractor's negligent management of burn pit operations, contrary to applicable contract provisions, exposed them to air pollutants that subsequently caused serious health problems. The contractor has moved to dismiss the suits, arguing, among other things, that it cannot be held liable for any injuries that may have occurred to service personnel because all its burn pit activities occurred at the direction of the military.

November 6, 2009, the Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing and we'll note this exchange:

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.

Which is the case. Deanna Sauceda (KRQE) reports on Master Sgt Jessey Baca today. Baca is an Iraq War veterans now struggeling with health problems after serving in Balad near a burn pit:

In 2006, Baca was diagnosed with basil cell carcinoma and mysterious tumors in his hands and neck. He attempted to be diagnosed for rare forms of irreversible lung disease, but it required a biopsy, which he could not get it done in New Mexico.
He and his wife Margaret pushed for answers and ended up at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Baca just returned from Vanderbilt and was diagnosed with mesophilioma and chronic bronchiolitis . Both conditions have no cure and no treatment.

Next month, there will be a summit on Burn Pits:

Burn Pit Summit
Monday, April 18 at 9:00am
Location: Washington D.C.

Meanwhile Noel Brinkerhoff (AllGov News) reports Defense Dept statistics show that the therapy visits of family members of service members repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have increased 15% over the last decade.

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oh boy it never ends