WASHINGTON (CNN) - The House passed a measure Thursday that would set a 12-month limit on the military's use of controversial "burn pits" to dispose of potentially hazardous materials on bases overseas.
The pits, used to burn all matters of waste, have been controversial since troops complained of various health problems from inhaling fumes.
The measure, sponsored by Reps. Tim Bishop, D-New York, and Carol Shea-Porter, D-New Hampshire, would prohibit the use of the pits for burning medical and hazardous waste, including plastic bottles, during operations lasting longer than 12 months.
"We should not continue to recklessly use burn pits to dispose of hazardous waste across Iraq and Afghanistan," Bishop said in a statement. "Our troops should be free to focus on fighting the enemy without worrying how their lives may be further endangered by breathing in toxic air from their own bases."
Emissions from 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, sometimes with jet fuel used as an accelerant. 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.
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.
The study of air samples at Balad by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine (USACHPPM) was conducted after a number of concerns about the toxic nature of the pervasive smoke from the incineration pits.
The air samples were collected between January and April of 2007. But the report admitted that it cannot account for everything burned in the pit. An additional 107 samples were collected in October and November of 2007. The results of those tests will be released early in 2009.
Many in the veterans community remain unconvinced that the burn pits were harmless. A database started by the group Disabled American Veterans includes more than 400 veterans who believe they had significant exposure to the pits and have since contracted cancer, or developed pulmonary problems, skin lesions and allergy symptoms.
The Senate has yet to vote on the measure.