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Senators Ask DoD to Stop Using Open Air Burn Pits in Afghanistan

Open Air Burn Pits are getting a lot of press these days.  There are increasing concerns about the fumes from these pits causing health problems to service members exposed to them.   Veterans who served in Afghanistan are returning with reports of various health issues.  In a letter dated July 18, 2013, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Bob Corker wrote the Secretary of Defense about the use of open air burn pits that in Afghanistan.  The text of their letter follows:

” We are writing to ask for immediate action to halt the use of open air burn pits that are potentially endangering the health of U.S. military and civilian personnel supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Two alarming reports by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan
Reconstruction (SIGAR) released on April25, 2013 and July 11,2013 have found evidence of the ongoing operation of open-air burn pits at Forward Operating Base Salerno and Camp Leatherneck in potential violation of Public Law 111-84 and Department of Defense Instruction 4 715.19. The SI GAR report found that the present capacity of on-base incinerators at Camp Leatherneck is sufficient to provide for waste disposal for its 13,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel. However, this capacity is not being fully utilized, and the camp is relying heavily on
open-air bum pits to dispose of waste.

As you know, the use of open-air burn pits is supposed to be limited, and there is a prohibition on their use when there is an alternative disposal method available. These limitations were put in place in order to mitigate and prevent exposure to toxic pollution caused by the release of particulates from plastics and Styrofoam, metal, chemicals from paints and solvents, petroleum and lubricants, jet fuel, unexploded ordinance, and other dangerous waste. Veterans who have returned from bases which utilized open-air bum pits, such as Joint Base Balad in Iraq, where open-air burn pits were widely used, have experienced symptoms and medical ailments such as shortness of breath, headaches, chronic bronchiolitis, cancer and other diseases.

The DOD and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must monitor our troops and veterans who were exposed to burn pit smoke. The American Lung Association has found that “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.” A 2006 Air Force memo also noted that “there is an acute health hazard for individuals. There is
also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke.”

We arc concerned that despite these precautions required by statute and military directives, our men and women now serving in uniform are still being exposed to open-air burn pits. Last year, we introduced and passed the Open Burn Pit Registry Act, and today we are working to ensure that our veterans and service members are made aware of the dangers posed by their exposure. The men and women of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan deserve better. We therefore request a timeline for the prompt closure of the burn pits at Forward Operating Base Salerno and Camp Leatherneck, and the Department of Defense’s explanation for not fully utilizing alternative waste disposal methods. Furthermore, we request that service members who have been exposed to air pollution caused by the open-air burn pits be notified about the dangers of their exposure, and that their service records indicate that they have served in an area where open-air burn pits were used.

Further delays only serve to increase the health risks faced by our troops, and we look forward to your response.

/s/ Tom Udall, Unites States Senator

/s/ Bob Corker, United States Senator”

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