Defense

July 12, 2013

Military burn pits may endanger health

Kevin Freking
Associated Press

A military camp in Afghanistan continues to use open-air burn pits to dispose of its solid wastes, potentially endangering the health of the nearly 13,500 people working there and violating the Pentagon’s own regulations and guidance, federal investigators say.

The Defense Department has said burn pits should only be used as a temporary last resort when no other alternative trash disposal method is feasible. Even then, at bases containing more than 100 personnel, burn pits are supposed to operate a maximum of 360 days. However, the burn pit at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand province continues to operate some five years after the camp was started, says John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

The base could avoid using the burn pits altogether if the Pentagon were to make full use of four incinerators that cost $11.5 million to purchase and install, Sopko said.

├ČThe toxic smoke from burning solid waste each day increases the long-term health risks for camp personnel, including reduced lung function and exacerbated chronic illness, ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,├« Sopko wrote to Gen. Lloyd J Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The IG’s report is the second in the past four months citing the use of burn pits at a U.S. base in violation of Pentagon regulations. The previous report focused on a base near the Afghanistan border with Pakistan.

The Pentagon forwarded an Associated Press request for comment to public relations staff in Afghanistan, who had no immediate response.

An Institute of Medicine study requested by the Veterans Affairs Department concluded in 2011 that there was insufficient data to determine whether burn pit emissions had long-term health consequences. However, some U.S. personnel stationed near burn pits have complained that burn-pit exposure has led to a litany of medical problems. Sopko cited an April 15, 2011, Army memo stating that long-term exposure may increase the risk for developing chronic health conditions such as reduced lung function or chronic bronchitis.

Lawmakers have recently required the VA to establish a database that would monitor personnel stationed near burn pits to track any health issues and alert participants if major problems are detected.
A Government Accountability Office report has said waste disposed in burn pits may consist of plastics, food, discarded electronics, pallets, mattresses, clothing, tires and metal containers. Officials have calculated that there are about eight pounds of waste each day for each person at a military base.

The inspector general’s report for Camp Leatherneck indicated that investigators visited the camp three times in April and May. Two 12-ton incinerators were used sparingly, while two larger ones were never used. While contractors said during the last inspection that the larger incinerators would be operational in three weeks, they were still not operational as of July 2, according to the report.

Burn pits were relied upon heavily during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly in the earliest years of the wars. The military has cited expediency as the major factor as incinerators or landfills may not have been readily available, especially when a base has just opened.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Army photograph by C. Todd Lopez

Army to launch cruise missile-detecting aerostat at Aberdeen Proving Ground

Army photograph by C. Todd Lopez The Army plans to launch an aerostat, part of the “Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor,” in late December 2014. The JLENS aerostat will be tethered to the...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Jordan Castelan

AF delivers Iraqi F-16s for training in US

Air Force photograph by SrA. Jordan Castelan Iraqi air force captain Hama conducts preflight inspections while inside a new to service Iraqi F-16 Fighting Falcon Dec. 17, 2014, located at the nearby Tucson International Airport...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. Derek VanHorn

Short-notice: A new way to exercise

Air Force photograph by SSgt. Derek VanHorn Airmen from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepare for an aeromedical evacuation exercise on a KC-135 Stratotanker Dec. 5, 2014, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The operation was executed in supp...
 

 
Lockheed Martin photograph by Andy Wolfe

Japan, Australia to provide F-35 maintenance sites in Pacific region

Lockheed Martin photograph by Andy Wolfe An F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter carrier variant prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean, Nov. 6, 2014. Japan and Australia will be sharing...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Maeson L. Elleman

Hanscom working to provide 5th, 4th gen aircraft common tactical picture

Air Force photograph by SrA. Maeson L. Elleman A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle taxis for takeoff on Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 16, 2014. The Space, Aerial and Nuclear Networks Division at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is worki...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. Staci Miller

Australian F-35 lands at new home

Air Force photograph by SSgt. Staci Miller The first Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II jet arrives at Luke Air Force Bas, Ariz., Dec. 18, 2014. The jet’s arrival marks the first international partner F-35 to a...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>