Thursday, October 11, 2012

Burn Pits

Mike Francis (Oregonian) reports that opening arguments began yesterday in the trial against KBR for exposing soldiers to cancer causing materials at an Iraqi water treatment plant.

The soldiers' lawyers painted a picture of a profit-driven conglomerate that minimized concerns about health risks at the expense of soldiers who served at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in southern Iraq in 2003. KBR, said Michael Doyle, the soldiers lead attorney, "knew the site was in terrible condition and would require extensive remediation." They knew this, he said, "from Day One," but bypassed opportunities to inform the troops about the presence of a toxic chemical compound at Qarmat Ali and, in fact, concealed its knowledge of contamination there.

Teresa Carson (Reuters) adds, "The chemical in question, sodium dichromate, contains hexavalent chromium, made famous in the film Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts, which depicts Brockovich's work to uncover pollution of the water supply of a California town. The guardsmen described the compound in the court filings as 'a highly potent carcinogen'." Nigel Duara (AP) notes that, "The soldiers returned to the U.S. suffering from myriad respiratory problems, migraines and lung issues. They sued KBR in June 2009. The Oregon soldiers were joined by Guardsmen from Indiana and West Virginia, some of whom are also involved in suits against KBR."

A resource for this topic is Burn Pits 360 whose goals include:

To maintain a National Registry that will allow the individuals affected to self report their data online.  To identify the need for a longitudinal study, to prove a medical, scientific, and legal correlation between the toxic chemicals detected and the individuals exposed. 
To Establish an alliance of veteran service organizations, health care providers, legislators, and government organizations to allow for the strategic development of a quality specialized health care model specific to toxic environmental exposures that will provide a lifetime continuum of care.
To Facilitate resources to thousands of Reservists, Service Members, Veterans, and their Families through outreach initiatives encompassed around linking the services requested on the registry to services available within their community.

You may recall the effort by Democrats to lie recently, whining that the Republicans were just not working to pass a bill for veterans -- a bill so unimportant to Democrats that Senator Bill Nelson didn't even introduce it until July.  If it had been so damn important, they would've introduced it earlier.  Instead, it was introduced right before the summer break so that the Democrats could show boat and proclaim the Republicans didn't care about veterans.  The reality is, I'm not seeing any party carrying for veterans in the Congress.  A few individual members?  Yeah.  But the Congress itself?

Then-Senator Evan Bayh introduced a bill for burn pit victims, one that would have created a national registry.  The thankfully outgoing Senator Jim Webb was the big roadblock.  He was not the only roadblock.
In the Senate currently, Senator Mark Udall champions the Burn Pit Registery and we'll note his remarks at the June 13th Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing;

Senator Mark Udall:  Sitting in the audience today is Master Sergeant Jessey Baca a member of the New Mexico Air National Guard and his wife Maria.  [to them] Just give everybody a waive here, you two.  Master Sgt. Baca was stationed in Balad, Iraq and exposed to burn pits. His journey to be here today was not easy.  He has battled cancer, chronic bronchitis, chemical induced asthma, brain lesions, TBI, PTSD and numerous other ailments. Maria has traveled that difficult road with him.   They know first hand the suffering caused by burn pits and they need to know the answers.  It is because of them and so many others like them that we are here today.  Last year, I introduced S. 1798, the Open Burn Pits Registry Act with Senator Corker.  Representative Todd Akin introduced it in the House.  It is not a partisan issue.  We have each met with veterans and active duty members of the military and they have told us how important it is that we act now.  In both Afghanistan and Iraq, open air burn pits were widely used at forward operating bases.  Disposing of trash and other debris was a major challenge.  Commanders had to find a way to dispose of waste while concentrating on the important mission at hand.  The solution that was chosen, however, had serious risks.  Pits of waste were set on fire -- sometimes using jet fuel for ignition.  Some burn pits were small but others covered multiple acres of land. Often times, these burn pits would turn the sky black.  At Joint Base Balad Iraq, over 10 acres of land were used for burning toxic debris.  At the height of its operations, Balad hosted approximately 25,000 military, civilian and coalition provision authority personnel.  These personnel would be exposed to a toxic soup of chemicals released into the atmosphere.  According to air quality measurements, the air at Balad had multiple particulates harmful to humans: Plastics and Styrofoams, metals, chemicals from paints and solvents, petroleum and lubricants, jet fuel and unexploded ordnance, medical and other dangerous wastes.  The air samples at Joint Base Balad turned up some nasty stuff. Particulate matter, chemicals that form from the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas garbage or other organic substances, volatile organic compounds such as acetone and benzene  -- benzene, as you all know, is known to cause leukemia --  and dioxins which are associated with Agent Orange.  According to the American Lung Association, emissions from burning waste contain fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. All of this was in the air and being inhaled into the lungs of service members.  Our veterans have slowly begun to raise the alarm as they learn why -- after returning home -- they are short of breath or experiencing headaches and other symptoms and, in some cases, developing cancer.  Or to put it more simply, by Maria Baca, when she describes her husband's symptoms, "When he breathes, he can breathe in, but he can't breathe out.  That's the problem that he's having.  It feels like a cactus coming out of his chest.  He feels  these splinters and he can't get rid of them."  The Dept of Army has also confirmed the dangers posed by burn pits.  In a memo from April 15, 2011, Environmental Science Engineering Officer, G. Michael Pratt, wrote an air quality summary on Baghram Airfield.  And I would respectfully ask that the full memo be included in the record.  Referring to the burn pits near Baghram Airfield,  he said there was potential that "long-term exposure at these level may experience the risk for developing chronic health conditions such as reduced lung function or exacerbated chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, atherosclerosis  and other cardio pulmonary diseases.  Many of our service members are coming home with these symptoms.  I believe, like you do, Madam Chair, that we are forever in debt for their service, so we must ask the question, "How did these burn pits impact the health of our returning heroes?"  This bill is a step towards finding the answers we owe them.  The legislation will establish and maintain and Open Burn Pit Registry for those individuals who may have been exposed during their military service.  It would include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines is applicable to possible health effects of this exposure. develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry and periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pits exposure.  It is supported by numerous groups including BurnPits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of US Navy,  Retired Enlisted Association, the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees and the National Military Family Association.  Madam Chair and Ranking Member Burr, thank you for your attention to this important issue.  I look forward to working with both of you and members of your distinguished Committee on this important legislation.  Thank you and a pleasure once again to be with you today. 

So what's the damn hold up?  In the House, US House Rep Todd Akin's championing the issue.

So what's the hold up?

How long do people have to suffer before they get relief?

How many veterans and contractors have to die?

Can we stop the pretense of "I give a damn about veterans but the other side . . ." and maybe actually do something for veterans? 

Those who've been exposed have health issues.  If they're lucky, the unlucky are already dead.  At what point does the Congress plan to get it off its lazy ass and do something?

From the August 10th snapshot:

Starting in the United States.  Mark McCarter (Huntsville Times) reports, "Russell Keith, who served as a paramedic in civilian life and during two tours of duty in Iraq, died Wednesday at age 53.  He suffered from Parkinson's disease that he believed was related to his exposure to burn pits while serving in Balad."  Services will be held tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at Laughlin Service Funeral Home with the burial at Jefferson Memorial Gardens. 
November 6, 2009, we covered the Democratic Policy Committee hearing that Russell Keith testified at.  He explained,  "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,"
Then-Senator Byron Dorgan was the Chair of the DPC and he stated at that 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.
Dire warnings were ignored.  Service members and contractors came back to the US with sicknesses resulting from that exposure and they have had to fight continually to try to have their illnesses and conditions recognized.  Russell Keith was part of those who came forward and spoke out.  He also was part of the class action lawsuit against KBR.  KBR has still not had to pay for their actions. 

Russell Keith didn't get justice.  He came forward, he told his story.  He shared what happened.  And the Congress couldn't get off its lazy ass to do a damn thing.  He's dead.  How many more have to die before Congress is going to get serious?  And until it does, it's got no place finger pointing across the aisle at one another because until they can deal with this issue, they're not helping veterans.

Veterans and contractors needing help on the burn pit issue can refer to Mike Doylle's Doyle Raizner LLP and Susan Burke's Burke PLLC.

The following community sites -- plus The Diane Rehm Show, Adam Kokesh, Susan's On the Edge,, C-SPAN and Dissident Voice -- updated last night and this morning:

We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "The CIA, the KKK and the USA" (Global Research):

By assigning covert action roles to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), it is as if the White House and Congress had legitimized the Ku Klux Klan to operate globally. That’s because the CIA today resembles nothing so much as the “Invisible Empire” of the KKK that once spread terror across the South and Midwest. Fiery crosses aside, this is what the CIA is doing globally.

The CIA today is committing many of the same sort of gruesome crimes against foreigners that the KKK once inflicted on Americans of color. The principal difference is that the KKK consisted of self-appointed vigilantes who regarded themselves as both outside and above the law when they perpetrated their crimes.

By contrast, the CIA acts as the agent of the American government, often at the highest levels, at times at the direction of the White House. Its crimes typically are committed in contravention of the highest established international law such as the Charter of the United Nations as well as the U.S. Constitution.

What’s more, the “Agency,” as it is known, derives its funding largely from an imperial-minded Congress; additionally, it has no qualms about fattening its budget from drug money and other illegal sources as it can. It is a mirror-image of the lawless entity the U.S. has become since achieving superpower status. And it is incredible that the White House grants license to this violent Agency to commit its crimes with no accountability.

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