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?


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Photo credit: Ryan Lackey "otcal" on flickr


Burn Pit V.
Burn Pit V.6 years ago

by exposing them to highly toxic smoke, ash and fumes emanating from the pits.

Can you imagine inhaling these toxic fumes 24/7 for up to 18 month deployments?

Currently a Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011 has been introduced Senate bill # S. 1798, and the House bill H.R. 3337 to create a registry, similar to the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Registry, that will help collect the facts needed to find the connections between burn pit exposure and health problems affecting our servicemen and women. The legislation will also serve as a vehicle for improved communication and information dissemination for affected veterans.

Although these bills mentioned are a good thing, it will take many years as have Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Registry to get the help our troops need. Many troops exposed to Agent Orange and Gulf War have died waiting for help that never came.

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Burn Pit V.
Burn Pit V.6 years ago

I wish to share our concerns regarding the safety of our troops and believe that it is our government's responsibility to treat servicememebers whose ailments are directly linked to exposure to dangerous toxins. As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials despite concerns about air pollution
Emissions from burning waste contain fine particulate matter, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. Emissions also contain super-toxic chemicals such as Dioxin that are known or suspected to be carcinogens.

An Open Air Burn Pit an area devoted to open-air combustion of trash. Modern waste contains significant amounts of plastic and other material which may emit toxic aerial compounds and particulates when burned. In Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S. military or its contractors such as KBR operated large burn pits for long periods of time burning many tons of assorted waste. Active duty personnel reported respiratory difficulties and headaches in some cases and some veterans have made disability claims based on respiratory system symptoms to more life threating diseases.

According to a brief, instead of removing the refuse safely, KBR chose to burn the unsorted waste in gigantic, open burn pits that produced flames hundreds of feet into the sky, injuring many, by exposing them to highly toxic smo

Jennifer Campbell

My husband was stationed at this base for 15 months. He talked about the burn pits and how disgusting they were. I think something need to happen with these burn pits. We need to protect the health of our men and women in uniform. They shouldn't be exposed to this kind of crap, and then come home with sickness and have our government turn its back on them and say they don't want to take care of them. I'm thankful my husband came home from this war and so far he hasn't shown symptoms of being sick. God bless our soldiers and their families who sacrifice so much for this country.

Wende Anne Maunder
Wendé Maunder6 years ago

So they send our service personnel, without justification, to invade two countries whose people are innocent of any wrongdoing towards us.They kill and maim thousands of the innocent populations in these countries with horrendous weapons, some of them primed with nuclear waste, which pollutes and destroys the health of the soil rendering it unfit to grow crops. Now - bum pits. The longer I live, the more I realise that in the perception of our governments, service personnel, are totally expendable.

Penny C.
penny C6 years ago

This is awful.

Portland Neola
P. L. Neola6 years ago

Thank you very much for this information. I know of a few veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.

Around twenty years ago, I knew a Marine helicopter gunner who had an Agent Orange claim against the government. He was 65% covered with a skin problem, something like psoriasis, and he was miserable!!! He went through ten years of annual radiation treatments and took a variety of unproven drugs for alleviating his medical problem. There was no relief for him! He even bathed in tar solutions, and they did not help either. He was really a Veterans’ Administration guinea pig!!!

Whenever he was in a relationship, the VA would always remind him to NOT have children, because the VA did not have any answers for his form of Agent Orange. Agent Orange has ten or more different forms. The VA was trying to learn how to treat or alleviate the symptoms for his form.

He served six years as a Marine and separated with an Honorable Discharge. After the Marines, he lived a miserable, uncomfortable life! If he was not such a fighter, I would have never met him, because he should have already committed suicide before our encounter.

Siusaidh C.
Susan C6 years ago

Dr. Christopher Busby is a member of the International Society for Environment Epidemiology. He was invited to Iraq to investigate the effects of 'depleted' uranium (DU).

In this recent interview, Dr. Busby talks about Fallujah:

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

The Pentagon has never really cared about the lowly soldier, or anybody else for that matter. They're just cannon fodder and so this doesn't even raise my eyebrow.
There's trillions of dollars in war and that combined with the power is what it's all about. Anybody who believes in the patriotic drivel that comes from the media is delusional.
Thank you Ernest R. for you comment and Marilyn L. for the book recommendation.

Christine Stewart
Christine S6 years ago

How terrible for members of the service as well as civilians having to breathe that foul air.

Holy Lawrence
Holly Lawrence6 years ago

Agreed with the comment of thatif we are spendingmoney in Iraq then use it to improve the country and the citizens!