Veterans speak out against burn pits

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A range of health problems are linked to the pits on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Toxic substances have been found in the smoke.

By David Zucchino Los Angeles Times
A military environmental agency that tested air samples from Balad in 2007 found dioxins, metals, volatile organic compounds and other toxic substances in the smoke. (U.S. Air Force)

The noxious smoke plumes that wafted over the military base in Balad, Iraq, alarmed Lt. Col. Michelle Franco. The stench from a huge burn pit clung to her clothing, skin and hair.

“I remember thinking: This doesn’t look good, smell good or taste good,” Franco said recently. “I knew it couldn’t be good for anybody.”

She wheezed and coughed constantly. When Franco returned to the U.S., she was diagnosed with reactive airway dysfunction syndrome. She is no longer able to serve as an Air Force nurse.

Other returning veterans have reported leukemia, lymphoma, congestive heart problems, neurological conditions, bronchitis, skin rashes and sleep disorders — all of which they attribute to burn pits on dozens of U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The military needs to step up and address this problem,” said John Wilson of the advocacy group Disabled American Veterans, which maintains a registry of more than 500 veterans with disorders they blame on burn pits. The fumes emanating from the pits, he warned, could become the Agent Orange of the current war zone.

Items burned in the pits have included medical waste, plastics, computer parts, oil, lubricants, paint, tires and foam cups, according to soldiers and contractors. Some say amputated body parts from Iraqi patients were burned in Balad, site of a large U.S. military hospital.

Read more at Los Angeles Times

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