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

Congressmen want more info on 'burn pit' claims

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/26/art.getty.soldiers.fire.jpg caption="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. D

    Mike Dallas... Nina is correct. According to Military Families United, more than 64% polled did not want the ban overturned.

    February 26, 2009 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  2. It should have been Limbaugh

    Some republicans could have boils on their face and they would deny it.

    February 26, 2009 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  3. No Incumbents 2010

    Tax the rich more and start a government program to provide trash disposal. I know we can have a Trash Czar.
    Considering all the diseases and toxins already in these 3rd world countries we battle in; I think burning trash is the least of our worries.

    February 26, 2009 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  4. JonDie

    Some things never change...like what soldiers have to put up with to serve their country. My dad used to joke that he took up smoking cigarettes...to be able to filter the air he had to breath on a US navy destroyer.

    February 26, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  5. B

    My God when will this end? I demand we do research to find out why a turtle puts his head back in his body? If you have ever had a bon fire or been around a controlled burn you know you usually get black sute up your nose, or on your body it just happens. You just don't keep inhaling the crap all day long man you move on. These men are in wind storms (which can lodge up you nose and in your throat) they are around tank smoke, gun fire. God..................give it a rest. They want to worry about this more than they do a real problem which is PTSD (Post Tramatic Stress Disorder). They don't even want to help them when they get home with this REAL problem.

    February 26, 2009 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  6. mark

    I was at tallil air base in Iraq and they burned the trash there also. As far as I know they are still doing it. They burned everything that you can think of, medical waste,body parts, electronics, etc. If it got tossed in the trash they burned it. The worst thing about it was if the wind blew just right the smoke would cover the whole base so everybody had to breath it.

    February 26, 2009 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  7. Bring the boys home

    enough already, stop the stupid Bush war and get them home

    February 26, 2009 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  8. young grad

    after talking to my boys in the service, these symptons are not isolated to Balad. Al Asad Airbase has had similar rumors of problems...None of my crew have had personal experiences I was recently told a story of my friend's battle buddy being discharged for "holes" in his brain.


    February 26, 2009 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  9. Cali Girl

    What the Hell? These guys deserve so much better.

    February 27, 2009 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  10. Cali Girl

    No Incumbents 2010 February 26th, 2009 11:17 pm ET

    Tax the rich more and start a government program to provide trash disposal. I know we can have a Trash Czar.
    Considering all the diseases and toxins already in these 3rd world countries we battle in; I think burning trash is the least of our worries.

    Cheney, is that you?

    February 27, 2009 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  11. Mary

    My cousin Mitch died in 2002 from leukemia. He was 42 years old and served in Desert Storm as a helicopter pilot. He felt ill around Thanksgiving, didn't get better. He was diagnosed around Christmas and dead by June. The military will not take any responsibility. My aunt has been in contact with many of his fellow military friends, and several others have developed leukemia, as well. They were exposed to something horrible over there, and if this ban stops it, then I think it's a good idea.

    February 27, 2009 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  12. Cali Girl

    Minnesotan February 26th, 2009 9:57 pm ET

    Send the EPA over… and leave them there.

    Wow, from Minnesota and not environmentally friendly? I don't like to stereo-type, but that seems a bit odd.

    February 27, 2009 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  13. Enough Already

    Bring Them Home....... Plz

    February 27, 2009 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  14. Julie

    @Mike, Syracuse NY

    You need a math lesson. Just because "only" 9% of mortgages are currently in foreclosure doesn't mean the other 91% are getting paid on time. Some of them have already been foreclosed and a lot of the rest are behind. The GOP's attitude has been around before – it was called fiddling while Rome burned. Deny it all you want – we're in a crisis here and we've got to find a way to take care of it. You boys go sit in a corner somewhere and tell yourselves "We're all right, so everything must be fine" until they come for YOU >>>>>

    February 27, 2009 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  15. Kent

    With the hundreds of billions of dollars we have spent in Iraq and Afganastan, The US Army and Air Force didn't even bother to bring in trash disposal facilities? So they burn it in open pits? Commanders ordered their men and women into positions downwind of these pits? Burning chemicals?

    These commanders should be courtmartialed.

    At least Haliburton got its profit, and the oil flows for Exxon and Mobil. So the wars served their purpose well. As it has been throughout history, the foot soldier suffers untold ills while the conquering king reaps the vast rewards of plunder.

    February 27, 2009 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
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