February 26th, 2009
08:00 PM ET
9 years ago

Congressmen want more info on 'burn pit' claims

Concerns about the effects of toxins emitted from burning trash at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan has members of Congress demanding more tests and research from the military.

Concerns about the effects of toxins emitted from burning trash at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan has members of Congress demanding more tests and research from the military.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Concerns about the effects of potentially toxic emissions from burning trash at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan has members of Congress demanding more tests and research from the military.

The congressmen want to see if there is statistical validity to complaints about illness and disease suffered by troops who have served in those countries.

The emissions, from what are known as 'burn pits,' have been a concern for troops, especially those who served at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq. Many of the soldiers who went through Balad since the beginning of the war had become used to "Iraqi crud," as they dubbed the symptom of excessive coughing and black phlegm. Soldiers complained of respiratory problems and skin infections, and in some cases believed they developed leukemia and tumors from the exposure.

The pits at Balad were at one point open and burning everything from plastics and food to medical waste. In the later years, incinerators were installed at Balad but many other bases in Iraq and Afghanistan still use the pits without incinerators to burn garbage.

Various tests by the military have concluded that emissions are not harmful. The Pentagon's Force Health Protection Directorate analyzed more than 160 air samples and concluded that the only risk is of temporary respiratory distress, nothing that poses a long-term threat.

The military said last year that smoke from the Balad pit exposed troops to toxic emissions, including low levels of cancer-causing dioxins. However, its tests indicated there is no long-term danger, officials said.

But many - including some members of Congress - remain unconvinced.

"After years of helping veterans of the Vietnam and Gulf wars cope with the health effects of toxic battlefields, we have learned that we must take exposures to toxins seriously to ensure that this generation of service members does not face the same difficulties," the congressmen say in the letter to be sent Monday to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

In the letter, signed by six representatives including Rep. Tim Bishop, D-NY, the congressmen are asking for data from the military about tumor rates to see if a pattern of problems can be ascertained. CNN was given a copy of the letter in advance.

"We are collecting this data in order to help better understand what is happening to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," the letter explains. "This would help to ensure specific benefits for service members who have been discharged from service if they become disabled because of certain diseases."

Filed under: Afghanistan • Iraq
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. EC

    This is just WRONG to have our military inhaling TOXIC smoke. What the heck is going on over there, WHY isn't someone stepping up to correct this mess that's making our military members sick!!!

    February 26, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  2. Diane Dagenais Turbide

    You do not need to collect data to know the answer ...this is pure common sense : burning toxic materials is toxic to your health period!

    February 26, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  3. nina

    your right EC...very wrong but don't count on this adminstration helping them. They just voted for the media to get coverage on coffins coming back. Never mind that 64 to 70 percent of the military families polled were againist it. I thought he would be for the soldiers but this is shameful and wrong. I guess we see where military stands in there book. Bet we won't see him visiting on Thanksgiving day!.

    February 26, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  4. Scott L

    A lot worse has happened. We just got the shaft by our new president who is plunging America into the worst deficit in history.

    And you thought Bush spent a lot of money?


    February 26, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  5. Steph

    We should not be making our own soldiers sick! Totally unacceptable! I'm glad they are insisting on more tests. The practice should be stopped until they have definitive proof that this causes no harm to the brave men and women doing the jobs we've asked them to do!

    February 26, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  6. Jason L

    I was in Afghan. One of our machine gun post's was about 25 yards from the burn pit. That burn pit would have anything and everything that was used through out the day burning. And if you were lucky you'd have the wind blowing in your face for all 8 hours while on post with the black smoke coming in!

    So now the goverment is saying you can inhale burning plastic and treated green wood and it's healthy? Isnt this a new low for our goverment.

    CNN should look at the letter sent from someone in the V.A. It said they werent to give returning home vet's there "ptsd" claim right away and to call it something else.
    That's something that should be brought to light!!!!

    February 26, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  7. linda from south dakota

    re:scott.. umm, scott,, u must be a republican,, because any sane american can see that we have been shafted for at least 8 years here,,,,either that or you have enuff money to last you a lifetime, and dont really care that most americans can barely afford food or to pay their house payment,,, or you just want to be noticed here for a big negative statement.. grow up!!!!!

    February 26, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  8. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Congress doesn't need any more information, these soldiers were breathing toxics just like agent orange. Pay them, take care of them and stop the suffering and don't treat them like we did our Vietnam veterans whom many died before seeing a penny from their suffering.

    February 26, 2009 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  9. Jkoons

    Really though, what are they supposed to do with it? Carry it with them until they find an incinerator at a base?

    February 26, 2009 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  10. Joe Terrogano

    I am more concerned with the BILLIONS of dollars that this war is costing us, on top of the American casualties, while they are sitting on oil fields. Any debt America had to Iraq has been paid for by American blood and American dollars. If they want our protection or advisers, let them pay for them. Why are we continuing to pour money and blood down this bottomless pit? If a civil war is going to happen, it will happen after we have left many of our dead and wounded and billions of our dollars! I am a democrat with liberal leanings and also a Viet Nam veteran. We are not learning from history.

    February 26, 2009 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  11. america first

    of course it's toxic, bring outr troops HOME (ASAP).

    February 26, 2009 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  12. DL

    Nina, there was no "vote" by this administration. The decision was made by Robert Gates. Additionally, the decision to allow these caskets to be shown in the media will ultimately be left to the families of these deceased soldiers. If a family does not want his loved one's casket shown, it will not be shown. Remember, there are 38% of military families that don't have a problem with it, that do NOT find it "shameful and wrong". Perhaps they believe that it will draw attention to the real consequences of this war. Even if they aren't the majority, their opinions matter just as much as the majority's (and yours). They certainly have suffered and lost just as much.

    February 26, 2009 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  13. Mike Dallas

    President Obama's new budget does include increases for VA care, unless of course, McCain and crew vote against it.

    February 26, 2009 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  14. 2yuong2voteOR

    OMG, get rid of that stuff!

    i dunno, have the afgans dispose of it and pay them in return

    that might stimulate their economy

    ...just a thought

    February 26, 2009 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  15. Been there done that

    I was a firefighter at Balad and we were constantly going to the dump to try and control the fires there. They were burning stuff 24/7 and there was a steady column of smoke rising from that side of the base. We always were our breathing apparatus when at the dump but there were many people who went there or near there that didn't have that luxury.

    February 26, 2009 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  16. Mike Dallas


    You lying and ignorant twit!

    Two thirds of the families said the tradition of showing the caskets should be reinstated.

    In addition, the families have the final say, as to whether the casket of their loved one can be photographed.

    If you had read the budget before starting your fat fingers, you would know that President Obama has increased spending for VA health care and PTS. But, then I forgot, you cannot read and sorry the budget doesn't have pictures! http://www.budget.com, maybe your 8 year old can read it to you.

    February 26, 2009 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  17. The Rector

    Now now scott and linda lets not let our ignorance show. Both republican and democratic politicians have made screwing the people of this country a fine art. The soldiers are just getting what they signed up for, and we as taxpayers are getting what we settle for. Obama has no chance of changing the direction of this country, he isn't a power broker, he is a puppet, just like all the rest of them. How do you know when a politician/ lawyer is lying? Their mouth is moving. Stop paying your taxes and stop taking their "stimulas" bribes it's not our money, it's our grandchildrens money. When will we stop putting the mistakes and greed of our own time on the shoulders of those yet unborn?

    February 26, 2009 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  18. Active Duty Soldier

    As a soldier who was and will be deployed to Iraq, I have to say, It's about time!!! These burn pits are nasty, dirty, smelly, and everywhere. We inhale this gunk daily. The military says don;'t worry about it, you will be fine. What a load of bull that is.

    NINA, you need to do some research prior to posting. Military members and their families want the pictures of flag draped coffins in the news. This is a war in which very few americans are actually sacrificing anything. Most americans are happily sitting on the couch each night, sacrificing nothing, watching the news and being happily ignorant when it comes to american deaths overseas. As an active duty servicemember who has been deployed, if something happens to me, I want the coverage. I want people like you NINA who sacrifice nothing, to see the sacrifice that some people have to do in order to keep this great country strong. Ignorance may be bliss, however, if we were all as ignorant and uninformed as you are Nina, this country would be half of what is today. Showing the coffins is not a form of protest, it is not political, it is a show of respect and a reminder to people like you Nina that there is a war going on, and that there are heroes sacrificing themselves for this country. Read the news Nina, get off your high-horse, become an informed american and you will see that the majority of service members and their families want these pictures shown.

    February 26, 2009 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  19. QED721

    Troops stationed in South Korea are also exposed to an environmental nightmare. The trash is (unless things have changed) is burned open-air with lots of pollution.

    February 26, 2009 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  20. Minnesotan

    Send the EPA over... and leave them there.

    February 26, 2009 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  21. Ernie in LA

    "Obama wants $200 Billion for war spending"?? And Bush was spending too much on a stupid war?

    February 26, 2009 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  22. Mike, Syracuse NY

    @linda from south dakota: "and dont really care that most americans can barely afford food or to pay their house payment"

    Umm, linda, you must be a liberal. "Most" means more than half. Most Americans are employed and have more than enough food and are paying their mortgages just fine. The unemployment rate is much less than recessions in the 70's and 80's. 7% isn't the Great Depression. The mortgage default rate is 9%. That means 91% are getting paid on time. Like 'most' Americans, you are probably paying less taxes than you were 8 years ago. But don't worry, Obama will fix that.

    February 26, 2009 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  23. pete

    Don't forget to blame Bush.

    February 26, 2009 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  24. geen

    it is ironic, but it seems that the only way Americans are treated right when they come back from this illegal war initiated by the Moron's regime, and now, it seems, pursued for the next two years by Obama, is when they come back in flag covered coffins...all other veterans of that war are in a constant fight to survive their illnesses, not to mention the burden on t heir families which very few politicians do much more than talk about....just WHERE is the mandate to continue this senselessness....70% of Americans and 80% of the rest of the world, including Iraqi's, are opposed to this continuing illegal occupation..the body count continues to rise, call it for what it is..and, perhaps, with allowing families to make the choice of whether or not they want the coffins of their sons, their daughters, their fathers, their mothers who have died–and will continue to die under the Obama plan–viewed publicly, this war will someday end...the troops WILL come home, the blood will no longer flow....thank god for the media..they ended the American genocide in Vietnam...perhaps the same effect will be attained with the Iraq/Afghanistan fiasco's.

    February 26, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  25. thomas

    Another example of private contractor work performed without regard for the troops, followed by a pentagon cover up? No way. Couldn't happen.

    February 26, 2009 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
1 2