Living Next to Burning Trash: the Burn Pits at Balad Air Base
A new report was released today on the infamous burn pits located at Balad Air Base, Iraq. These pits were used to dispose of everything from paper waste, human waste, batteries and an increasing amount of plastics. The smoke, as I was told, sometimes blanketed the base. Although it was huge, it is not the only burn pit that our service members have been exposed to during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every FOB and COB has a pit, or burn barrels. As today’s reports says: “open air waste burning has long been used by the military when other waste disposal options have not been available.”
Our service members are subjected not only to the burning trash, but also a stew of background air pollutants including jet fuel from refueling activities, and an active airbase as well as emissions from power generation and the dust inherent in the area, that blows in the prevailing winds. This report suggests that the lousy air quality in Iraq and Afghanistan might have been a threat to service-members to a greater degree than even the burn pit fume exposure. I have heard the not-so-affectionate term used for the air quality in and around Kabul as “crunchy” from the dust, the sand, the cooking fires and warming fires.
The “Gulf War syndrome” has been has now been joined by the Iraq/Afghanistan War Lung Injury, a new term that a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested. What the long term ramifications will be is unknown. Veteran pages are beginning to discuss this report, especially any who were permanently stationed at Balad/Anaconda, nicknamed “Mortaritaville.” There are ongoing claims of bronchitis and recurring respiratory problems, sinus ailments and lung infections.
The report recommends that a new epidemiological study be conducted to find out if proximity to the burn pit increased the risk of “adverse health outcomes;” was the subsequent installation of the incinerators beneficial and did it reduce the amount of chronic health problems; and are the personnel who were deployed to Balad during the full burn pit operation more likely than other personnel deployed in other areas to get sick.
Gulf War syndrome cases have been growing, and if history repeats itself (as compared to Agent Orange claims) both Gulf War and IA War Lung Injury cases will begin to increase as time goes by. I know that in my own family, we keep track of where my husband and son were – we make sure that they have noted the information on their medical records, especially since one of them was actually stationed on Balad! I have friends whose fathers or uncles are VietNam vets, who have Agent Orange claims; friends whose spouses are suffering with the after effects of Gulf War Syndrome. How many will be affected by their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, how many IA War Lung injuries will be diagnosed?
Photo credit: Ryan Lackey "otcal" on flickr