September 8, 2014 – The military has a responsibility to dispose of a wide array of materials, some of them hazardous, when they evacuate their bases. Several defense companies were contracted to make sure that this was done responsibly in Afghanistan and Iraq between the time periods of 2003 and 2013. Unfortunately, many of these companies failed to do their job.
In blatant disregard to the environment, the local population, the men and women who served our country, they put in place the practice of incinerating all unneeded materials. Not only were these contractors guilty of bilking our government for large financial gains, they also showed extreme callousness in the way that they resorted to a method that required the least amount of effort on their part — any hazards to others were disregarded.
As a result, military personnel stationed in these areas and the native citizens are now showing signs that their health was extremely compromised.
Disposal Created a Toxic Environment
These toxic burn pits were widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Essentially, a pit is bulldozed into the Earth, and all matters of waste are tossed into the mix. Then the entire amalgamation is set on fire, creating what started off looking like a Fourth of July fireworks display but morphed into what looked more like a mushroom cloud from a nuclear bomb. This method of disposal created a huge problem because it exposed everyone in the nearby area to toxic fumes, smoke, and ash while additionally contaminating their food and water source.
The standard method for safely disposing of military waste is to use incinerators or closed landfills. Burn pits proved to be much cheaper to operate. They were also easier to install in various locations.The pits were operated against EPA guidelines for waste disposal in order-hazardous chemicals, detritus and other byproducts of the war fields.
Burn Pits Linked to Health Problems
Several military personnel and civilians who were unfortunate enough to be exposed to toxic burn pits are now battling issues such as cancer, respiratory disorders, G.I. tract issues, autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders and problems with their peripheral nervous system.
During the Vietnam War, soldiers were exposed to herbicides such as the defoliant Agent Orange, and this caused many of them to return with serious medical conditions, including cancer, type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease and peripheral neuropathy. Although many of the side effects are different, it is easy to understand why these two toxic mistakes from U.S. military history are now referenced side-by-side.
Additionally, Gulf War syndrome is another major problem that was caused by exposure to pesticides and nerve agents, and veterans suffering from this condition have a variety of chronic and acute symptoms that range from cognitive problems to diarrhea.
Historically, there have been many miscalculations made with the way toxic chemicals are handled during a period of war, and our service men and women are the ones who ultimately pay the price for these mistakes in the way of deteriorating health or even loss of life.
VA Has a Penchant for Denial
However, the VA has taken an official position that there is no evidence of any long-term problems associated with these incidences. The laissez faire opinion from the VA shows a shocking lack of respect for the issue itself, let alone the disturbing disregard for our veterans.
During Vietnam, soldiers were informed that Agent Orange was safe. The truths about Agent Orange are still being revealed today, even after 51 years of the war’s ending. Our veterans, their children, and the Vietnamese people have suffered from cancers to physical deformities.
Ironically, the VA does acknowledge that, “Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction.”
The Aftermath and You
Combat veterans who believe that they are experiencing the symptoms of toxic burn pit exposure or any other medical condition related to service can receive medical assistance from the VA for up to five years after they are discharged. The VA has urged concerned veterans to talk to their health care provider or their local Veterans Affairs Environmental Health Coordinator. They should also consider taking legal action against the contractors who were derelict in their responsibility to safely dispose of the waste.
There were TENS OF THOUSANDS of military service members that may have been potentially exposed to the toxic smoke of these noxious pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The partners at Doyle Raizner have also weighed in on the likelihood of toxic exposure to servicemen stating that, “Any military or civilian personnel in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, from 2003 to present, may have been exposed to smoke and fumes, dermal contact, and even ingestion through food sources that had been contaminated, due to smoke plume dispersion throughout the bases.”
Ultimately, the facts prove that toxic burn pits are extremely unsafe, and the EPA has continuously stated that even organic materials should never be destroyed in this manner. In other words, it makes absolutely no sense to use an open-air pit to dispose of asbestos, heavy metals, biohazard materials, fuel, plastic, medical waste, dioxins and formaldehyde.
Although it is impossible to change the fact that many people were exposed to these toxins, it is possible to hold the contractors responsible for placing money above human lives by holding them legally accountable for their unsafe actions.
Holly Chavez is the daughter of a Marine who suffered devastating health effects from Agent Orange exposure after serving in the Korean War. Our military men and women deserve proper medical care and attention after time served protecting the freedom and safety of United States citizens. Anything less is a disservice to them.
Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/aasYH7