What are burn pits

What are burn pits

Waste incineration at the 1st Marine Division in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War 1991

A incineration pit refers to an area of ​​a deployed military base designed for outdoor waste incineration . The phrase “burning pit” has gained prominence in the 21st century, especially on US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan . However, this practice was used long before the War on Terror (from 2001 to the present). Good waste management practices have reduced the spread of infectious diseases that have greatly contributed to death and morbidity among military personnel in based conflicts. Field Manual the US Army , there are four other ways, besides incineration pits, of non-hazardous solid waste: incinerators , burial , landfills and tactical burials. The use of outdoor burning significantly reduces the amount of waste, but increases the risk of fire and the formation of toxic fumes. Due to modern waste in a deployed environment, there are plastic (including water bottles), shipping materials, e-waste and other materials that may release toxic air compounds . The burners were heavily criticized and led to lawsuits by veterans , Department of Defense civilians, and military contractors. Global environmental consciousness has been particularly critical of these examples of large-scale pit-burning operations. The effect of incineration pits is similar to that of fire scavenging .

Use in Iraq and Afghanistan

Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2001, incinerator pits have been used at military bases throughout the region as a way to dispose of waste. These locations include Iraq , Afghanistan , Kuwait , Saudi Arabia , Bahrain , Djibouti , Gulf of Aden , Gulf , Oman , Qatar , United Arab Emirates , Persian Gulf , Arabian Sea , and Red Sea . In 2010, large-scale pit-burning operations in Iraq and Afghanistan , allegedly carried out by the US military or its contractors such as KBR , were reported to have allowed pits to be operated for long periods, burning many tons of various wastes. Active duty servicemen have reported breathing problems and headaches in some cases, while some veterans have claimed disability based on respiratory symptoms suspected to be caused by burn pits. General David Petraeus , Commander, US Central Command and Multinational Force – Iraq stated that at the time the commanders were concerned about the basic needs (food and water) of the soldiers under his command, not about burning the pits. The Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan deemed the incineration pits unjustified because their releases (the incineration pits) are potentially harmful to US military personnel.

Burnt materials and products of combustion

Waste incinerated using incineration pits was reported to include: chemicals, paint, medical waste, human waste, metal and aluminum products, electronic waste , munitions (including unexploded ordnance ), petroleum products, lubricants, plastics, rubber, wood and food waste. A typical incineration pit used jet fuel (typically JP-8 ) as a booster . The burning of such material created puffs of black smoke. According to an Air Force fact sheet, “Burning solid waste in a quarry creates a wide variety of pollutants. These pollutants include dioxins , particulate matter , polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons , volatile organic compounds , carbon monoxide , hexachlorobenzene and ash . Highly toxic dioxins, which are produced in small quantities in almost all combustion processes, can be produced in increased quantities when plastic waste (e.g. discarded drinking water bottles) is burned more and if combustion is not carried out at high temperatures in an incinerator. Inefficient incineration of medical waste or latrine waste can result in the release of disease-causing aerosols.” Hexachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (colloquially known as dioxin) is the same chemical found in Agent Orange , used in the Vietnam War . In addition, the incineration pits also created particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and PM 10 pollution. Below is a table listing all known pollutants found in incinerator pits.

Joint Base Balad (JBB), the largest US base in Iraq, was operating an incineration pit in the summer of 2008, burning 147 tons of garbage a day, when the Army Times published a major article about it and health issues. The incineration pit at JBB covered 10 acres and each person assigned to JBB produced 3.6 to 4.5 kg of waste per day. An Air Force spokesman, speaking on behalf of the 609th Joint Air and Space Operations Center Southwest Asia , strongly disputed the health impact claims and highlighted mitigation efforts. In Afghanistan, at its peak, over 400 tons of waste was disposed of daily in incineration pits.

According to Leon Russell Keith, a military contractor from Balad who testified at a Senate hearing in 2009, the ashes were all over the place, including on beds and clothes. He described that there was thick black smoke even in the barracks. Ash forever leaves stains on the sheets. One soldier described the smoke as thick, “like the fog of San Francisco”. Another called it “pollen dust”. The color of the smoke could be blue and black or yellow and orange. However, he was mostly black. Everyone inhaled and swallowed it. It was absorbed into their skin.

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The burning pits were ostensibly taken as a temporary measure, but remained open long after alternative methods of disposal such as incineration . A few years later, the US military did adopt other methods. Burning pits were used during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm . As of July 2019, there are still 9 authorized incineration pits in operation in Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt. According to DoD, this is the last resort when there is no real alternative. For longer storage, conventional solid waste management methods are used.

Health impact

On August 6, 2009, President Barack Obama directed federal agencies to use cutting-edge science. regarding incinerators to protect US military personnel, and then ask military commanders to implement recommendations to protect those under their command.

Anthony Szema, MD, Stony Brook School of Medicine, said that people exposed to air pollution, especially particulate matter (PM), have a high risk of death and lung disease, such as premature pulmonary emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Benzene (a component of JP-8) is a known carcinogen and a commonly used accelerator for incineration pits. Because the incineration pits are less heated, more particles are generated. In addition, burning plastic bottles produces a neurotoxin called n-hexane.

In November 2009, the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (IOM) began an 18-month study to determine the long-term health effects of exposure to burning pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA and the Department of Defense (DoD), Institute of Medicine formed a Committee on the Long-Term Health Effects of Exposure to Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, which held its first meeting February 23-24, 2010 in Washington, DC. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reviewed the scientific literature regarding the potential for adverse long-term health effects of open incineration pits. The report “Long-Term Health Effects of Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan” notes that air quality monitoring by the US Department of Defense. G particulate matter (PM) levels measured are higher than what is generally considered safe by US regulators. He also cited work linking high PM levels to cardiopulmonary effects, especially in individuals at increased risk due to pre-existing conditions such as asthma and emphysema. They concluded that there was only limited evidence indicating “an association between exposure to combustion products and reduced lung function in these populations.” If there is sufficient evidence of an association between exposure to the incineration pits and subsequent illness and disability, this could justify the adoption by Congress of a “service connection presumption” similar to that applied to Agent Orange exposure.

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Research is currently underway in the following areas to determine the effects of burn pits and health effects:

  • Reproductive health outcomes: There are some studies that suggest that toxins from the burning pits may have adverse birth outcomes ( low birth weight , preterm birth and increased risk of birth defects . In addition, there is increasing evidence of a decrease in sperm quality associated with burn pits.
  • Autoimmune Diseases : The U.S. Army Public Health Center has found that some toxins associated with burn pits suppress antibody responses. In addition, the immune system can become hypersensitive to toxins ( toxicants ).
  • Cancer : Fatal pancreatic cancer in one veteran is thought to be due to exposure to the burn pit. Another veteran is believed to have developed brain cancer as a result of exposure. One study using the Burn Pits 360 registry, there is a higher proportional death rate from cancer among deceased veterans.
  • High Blood Pressure : A study conducted by the Veterans Administration of Airborne and Open Burn Pits found that one-third of those exposed to burn pits were diagnosed with high blood pressure .
  • Respiratory Diseases: Veterans Affairs Aviation Hazards and Open Burns Registry, 30% of participants were diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.

Veterans Affairs Register

Department of Veterans Affairs Air Hazards and Open Burn Pits Registry created in 2014 to collect information about veterans and military personnel collected through questions about exposure to air in combustion pits. Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn or 1990-1991 Gulf War veterans and military personnel may use the registry questionnaire to report exposure to airborne hazards (such as smoke from pits for waste incineration, oil well fires, or contamination during deployment), as well as other exposures and health concerns.

Registry data reports:

1. Airborne Hazard and Open Burns Registry (AH OBP) Data Report, June 2015 – Between April 25, 2014 and December 31, 2014, almost thirty thousand veterans and active duty military personnel completed the registry questionnaire. This report highlights the health conditions and physical limitations faced by participants in the incinerator roster.

  • The most common health problems diagnosed by the doctor were insomnia and neurological problems.
  • Other commonly diagnosed health problems include allergies, high blood pressure, and lung conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma.
  • It is important to remember that registry data alone cannot tell whether exposure to burning pits, dust storms, or other hazards caused such a health condition.

2. Data Report from the Aviation Hazard and Open Burns Register (AH OBP), April 2015

As of December 31, 2019, 186,051 veterans and active service members have completed the questionnaire since June 2014.

Suggested health tracking

U.S. Army veteran and University of Pennsylvania graduate student Chad Baer has said out loud that claims of inclusive results are due to faulty study design. Baer was selected as a member of the SVA/VFW legislature in 2019 and traveled to Capitol Hill to champion the predictive analytics . Baer argued that technological advances made longitudinal studies of all veterans possible, except that this was not possible as long as the Department of Defense refused to provide more complete data to VA researchers. The data in question will be personnel data, which will allow the VA to create “clusters” based on elements such as physical location, job characteristics, or other relevant data.

Legislative response

A Minnesota mother, Amy Mueller, was exposed and her Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN-DFL) introduced a bill called the Pit Burn Vet Relief Act, which was passed and signed into law by President Donald Trump (HR 5895) on September 21 2018. During 2019, it will provide $5 million for incineration pit research, training, and impact assessments on other U.S. service members and veterans for incineration pits and toxic chemicals.

Congressional action

  • 2009 – HR 2419, War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act for Military Personnel
  • 2013 – President Obama signed the National Incinerator Pit Registry Act into law. part of the Veterans Funeral and Benefits Improvement Act of 2012
  • 2018 – President Trump signed into law the Vet Exposed Burn Pits Assistance Act.