New Public Database Reveals First-Hand Accounts of How Toxic Burn Pits Are Making U.S. Troops Sick
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Cancer, pulmonary disease, multiple sclerosis, sleep apnea, heart disease: Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans have suffered all these and more from toxic fumes spewing from burn pits on American bases. The Disabled American Veterans now has information on 182 sick veterans in a database developed by Assistant National Legislative director, Kerry Baker. Forty-eight have developed lymphoma, leukemia or other cancers; and 16 veterans in the database have died. And on March 30th, a group of seven lawmakers asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to attend to these findings as well the findings from an independent scientific consultant, which found a serious danger that veterans may become ill from burn pit fumes.
As early as 2006, the DoD had been informed by Air Force Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander Darrin Curtis that the pit was an acute health hazard. Though the Department of Defense has admitted that samples at the large burn pit at Balad contain Acetaldehyde, Acrolien, Arsenic, Benzene, Carbon Monoxide, Ethylbenzene, Formaldehyde, Hydrogen Cyanide, Hydrogen Fluoride, Phosgene, Sulfur Dioxide, Sulfuric Acid, Toluene, Trichloroethane, Xylene, and other chemicals, to date, it has insisted the pit presents no known dangers. The letter to Gates -- signed by Senators Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; Evan Bayh, D-Ind; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Representatives Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; John Hall, D-N.Y.; Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.; and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H. -- urged vigilance, citing the protracted and painful lessons from Agent Orange.
Rep. Bishop's office has developed a website in which veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan can tell their stories. In just a few days, many stories of negligence and suffering have emerged, adding to a tragic saga.
Dave was stationed at Balad, less than half a mile downwind from a double burn pit.
"They burned plastic, chemicals, tires, metal and who knows what else in that pit. Two months in everyone was coughing up black stuff. Three months in my black stuff started to include blood. I went to the clinic and the front desk turned me away. They said that I didn't need to see a doctor because it was just the burn pit crud. They said, 'A doctor cannot help you if you are not ill from a disease.' Later in the deployment, the smoke was so bad that we all were puking from it. Found out later that it was probably arsenic in the smoke. An air force memo outlined Dioxin, the chemical that made everyone sick from agent orange, comes from burning the same materials that were in the burn pit. The DoD tries to say that the dioxin was of no threat to human life. … I might not be the smartest guy in the world but dioxin is dioxin and it's harmful to humans no matter what the source. Be it agent orange or standing in the plume of the burn pit … But whatever, I came back home and was still coughing and having breathing problems. The doc gave me Sudafed."
Dave's Physical Training run time went from 10:12 to 13:59 in 6 months. His squad leader told him it was his fault. He should run even more, to run faster.
"So I took his advice … and then boom. Emergency room. Couldn't breathe. Had to be put on a machine … And the salt in the wound: The DoD says that burning tires, plastics, chemicals, medical waste, metal, oil, etc. isn't harmful. Which makes you wonder why it's illegal to burn that stuff back at home. "
Terry, deployed with the 101st Division, was stationed in Balad.
"Two weeks after arriving in country on my most recent deployment to Balad, I started developing symptoms that were eventually diagnosed as Still's Disease (Adult Onset Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis). The experts say that the disease is triggered by something to which you're exposed."