Lungfuls of worry
Report cites toxins in air, water; service members say they’re sick
By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Dec 10, 2008 18:15:12 EST
A report presented at the annual Military Health System conference earlier this year shows that burn pits at U.S. military bases in Iraq may not be the only thing troops need to worry about.
The report says particulate levels in the air in Southwest Asia are six to eight times as high as recommended limits under military regulations, and 65 of 140 water samples came back with unsafe levels of toxins during testing in 2007.
Military Times has received more than 100 e-mails from service members who say they are sick and believe it is because of air toxins, possibly from burn pits, they were exposed to in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some say they have had letters placed in their health records; some say the letters have disappeared; others said they received no letters. Burn pits also release particulate matter into the air.
John Young, the Pentagon’s chief of acquisition, technology and logistics, sent out a Defense Department instruction Nov. 11 expanding the department’s risk management procedures to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control health hazards associated with exposures to chemical, physical and biological hazards in the workplace, “to include military operations and deployments.”
It advises comparing exposures to health records to see whether there are connections between troops’ ailments and where they were based, to group people so they can be monitored for long-term health effects after known exposures, and to include exposure data in each person’s medical record.
The report presented earlier this year at the Military Health System conference, prepared by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, said 50 of 414 air samples taken in Southwest Asia from January to June 2007 came back as “very unhealthy” under Environmental Protection Agency standards.
According to the report, “sand and dust exceed guidelines but pose minimal acute health effects; long-term effects not known,” and airborne particulate matter is a “moderate” risk.
‘We don’t think there’s a problem’
R. Craig Postlewaite, senior analyst in the Pentagon’s force health protection directorate, told Military Times that particulate matter has been evaluated all over Iraq, as well as at the burn pit at Joint Base Balad, and that “in some ways,” readings are above military safety guidelines.
However, he said, “We don’t think there’s a problem.”
Still, a service member sent in a copy of a “Chronological Record of Medical Care” for Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan that cited some risks: “Expected health effects associated with exposures to airborne dust are eye, nose and upper respiratory irritation. [Particulate matter] concentrations fall within ranges that are believed to pose significant health concerns to susceptible groups, which in the military can include asthmatics or persons with pre-existing cardiopulmonary disease.”
Military researchers also found metals above safety guidelines in 26 air samples, including lead at 12 times safe levels and manganese at 3.5 times safe levels. One sample found acrolein, which was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, at 285 times recommended levels.
A particulate matter working group created by the Defense Department in 2005 determined that “acute effects appear to be minimal,” but added that “subacute and chronic effects are unknown at this time — more research is needed,” according to minutes from a workshop. The working group also recommended an enhanced surveillance system.
In that 2005 workshop, several doctors voiced concerns. Dr. Vince Castranova of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences worried that ultrafine particles — thousands of which could fit on the head of a pin — could cross the skin barrier and also be deposited in the lungs. He said toxicity per unit mass for ultrafine matter is higher than for larger grains.
Dr. Teri Franks, a pathologist with the Armed Forces Institutes of Pathology, autopsied two soldiers who died of pneumonia in Iraq and found several types of mineral particles, including crystalline silica, aluminum silicates with iron and pure iron in the soldiers’ lungs.
Postlewaite said research on people native to Southwest Asia shows no ill effects.
Water samples also contained toxins above military guidelines. Testers found arsenic, barium, benzene, boron, cadmium, calcium, chloride, copper, fluoride, lead, magnesium, mercury, nickel, selenium, sodium, sulfate, thallium, zinc, detergents, the herbicide diquat, dissolved solids and turbidity.
Troops aren’t supposed to drink this water, but it is used for showering and people often brush their teeth with it.
* Burn pit at Balad raises health concerns
* Burn pit fallout
* Senator wants answers on dangers of burn pits
What the troops are saying
Pentagon must recognize burn-pit health hazards
An interview with a patient at Walter Reed who believes burn-pit fumes caused her leukemia
Click on the link at the top of the page there are a lot of links with great data and video available
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Lungfuls of worry