Toxic Trash Burning in War Zones

The U.S. military has scores of open trash-burning pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to various sources such as One of their recent articles states there were over 100 operating in Afghanistan last year, because about ten pounds of solid waste were being created daily by the 100,000 military personnel there. The same source says for the same year there were 22 open burning pits in Iraq.

Burning plastic produces smoke containing chemicals that can cause cancer. Toxic pollutants like benzene, styrene oxide, formaldehyde, dixoin, and furans can be emitted upon burning plastic and paper products. The state of Illinois EPA website says these chemicals can cause health problems, Short-term exposure can aggravate asthma and affect other respiratory conditions. Long-term exposure can lead to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory, reproductive and developmental problems.

Burning computers, TVs and mobile phones releases heavy metals into the air and they are also linked to health problems. Lead, mercury and cadmium are some of the main metals in these consumer products. Apparently diesel fuel is being used in the open burn pits to start the materials on fire, and to keep them burning. This kind of fuel also releases toxins into the air when it is burned. Consider what the State of California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says about diesel fuel emissions, “Diesel exhaust and many individual substances contained in it (including arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde and nickel) have the potential to contribute to mutations in cells that can lead to cancer. In fact, long-term exposure to diesel exhaust particles poses the highest cancer risk of any toxic air contaminant evaluated by OEHHA. ARB estimates that about 70 percent of the cancer risk that the average Californian faces from breathing toxic air pollutants stems from diesel exhaust particles.”

Sometimes jet fuel is used to burn the trash, and that also can result in emissions of toxic pollutantsHundreds of U.S. war veterans have taken legal action because they believe medical conditions they have suffered since their deployment are due to exposure to smoke from open-pit trash burning in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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KS Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Youssef A.
Youssef A5 years ago

"do not corrupt the earth..." (Quran 7:56)

Youssef A.
Youssef A5 years ago

“Do not corrupt the earth ....” (Quran 7:56)

anne t.
anne t5 years ago

Plastic could be turned into fuel to reduce costs and pollution. See

Jake R.
Jake R5 years ago

Our own troops are being exposed and getting sick from it.

Beverly G.
bev g5 years ago

My God no wonder the Earths and globals in a state. Whats WRONG with these people. They JUST DONT CARE about anything. Its sickening.

Juliet D.
judith sanders5 years ago

Part of the reason they do this is sanitation and pest control, another reason is to prevent materials that could be used to make bombs or weapons into the hands of the enemy. You'd be surprised what can be made with a can, a bit of wire, and some acidic liquid.
It would be good if the compostable trash could be given to local farmers, and the non-compostable crushed.

Kathleen Kubic
K K5 years ago

The US tax payers are having a difficult enough time justifying being over there in the first place. I don't think we are willing to see even more of our tax money being used to bring trash home. War is not pretty.

Kathleen Kubic
K K5 years ago

I suppose you would like them to take it down to the local Afghani recycling center ... are we forgetting where they are? It is appalling to think of the pollutants, but I'm guessing they have no other choice and this is probably what most of the people living there do with their trash.

Richard K.
Richard K5 years ago

Well, I was over there - Bagram and Kandahar and I can say that open burning is a fact of life. A pit was dug with dozers and filled in as the burning progressed until full. Nothing seems to be recycled. Everybody drinks water out of bottles and guess where those thousands of plastic container wind up? Yep - in the burn pit. Am not sure about computer hardware, tho - not sure I saw that. Biological waste is burned in a high temperature incinerator.

One of the concerns was airborne exposure to the local nationals who tend the pits which are managed by the contractor. What saddened me was the lack of recycling or even the attempt to do do it - just too expensive, they said. Hazardous waste/batteries was being managed, however, and shipped out of country.

Just because we are over there "for a reason" does not exempt us from being good stewards.