When a military installation is built, all the waste and garbage generated by the facility has to be dealt with, and the most expeditious way is to burn it all in a big hole.
It’s surprising what gets thrown into these burn pits, and what is used as accelerants. In addition to all those things one would normally put in a dumpster, everything from ammunitions casings to used surgical gauze gets doused with gasoline or jet fuel and set alight. Actually, saying it is set afire is a bit misleading, because these pits burn pretty much 24/7 on nearly every base, as garbage is generated pretty much 24/7 on every base.
It would seem to be common sense that the fumes from these pits would be toxic, but not so according to the military. Everywhere else in the world, it is assumed that inhaling the fumes put off by burning plastics, batteries and heavy metals is not good for human consumption but in one of those inexplicable government ways of thinking, if you happen to be on a military base, somehow, those same fumes have to be proven to be toxic to humans.
Soldiers and civilian contractors who have spent months, even cumulative years breathing the air next to and often living downwind from these pits have been getting sick and not with just respiratory ailments. There have been thousands of cases of rarely seen cancers; cancers that are particularly rare when seen in otherwise healthy and young populations. There have been thousands of reported birth defects among the children of those who were living next to these burn pits. Worst of all, there have been hundreds, some say a couple thousand, deaths. Yet, the military denies that exposure to these burn pits is a causative factor.
Currently, there are a couple pieces of legislation making their way through the Halls of Congress which attempt to begin to get a handle on the scope of this problem. These bills got their legs because a few vets managed to get the ear of their duly elected representatives, after failing to get treatment or even acknowledgement from the VA and the military. These bills, H.R. 4057 and S. 3340 actually deal with other veteran issues, but have riders or addendums aimed at creating some form of a Burn Pit Registry. The language is different, but the intent for both is the same, to create a registration of all service members and civilian contractors who were stationed at a base with an open-air burn pit.
Arguing against these bills, saying that the burn pits do not and did not cause a human health hazard, is the United States Department of Defense. In a letter to Rep. Akin, one of the original authors of the House bill, Joanne Rooney, who is principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said that the DoD disagrees with the findings of a U.S. Army environmental engineer who was tasked with investigating the situation. This officer’s report, written in April, 2011, found that the burn pits were the primary contributor to elevated levels of particulates in the air. Despite and in direct contradiction to this report, the DoD goes so far as to say that there is no conclusive evidence associating the burn pits with long-term health effects.
This is their statement, despite the findings of dozens of toxic and known carcinogenic pollutants in the air, according to the report commissioned by the U.S. Army.
I guess it is just a coincidence that soldiers and civilian contractors who have been exposed to the pollutants from these burn pits are coming down with the very types of cancers one sees with exposure to these substances.
Let’s not wait for decades before we demand our vets get the treatment they deserve. Let’s demand the DoD admit exposure to these burn pits poses serious, long-term health risks for our veterans. Let’s demand the DoD honor our vets by caring for them with the dignity and respect they deserve when they become sick after serving their country. Let’s not wait for decades, as we did with Viet Nam vets exposed to Agent Orange, before we acknowledge that after they put their lives on the line for this country the least we can do is care for them when they become sick.