Military: Burn pits caused illnesses
Health » Open burning has since been banned but many may face long-term effects.
By Matthew D. LaPlante
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 12/15/2009 12:41:38 AM MST
Backing away from steadfast official denial, the U.S. military's senior health protection official said Monday that some service m embers might suffer long-term medical problems as a direct result of exposure to smoke and fumes from open-air burn pits scattered throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
Physician Craig Postlewaite, director of Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs, said that while scientific evidence has yet to prove the link, the personal stories of veterans coming forward to report long-term health problems have convinced him of the connection.
"We feel at this point in time that it's quite plausible -- in fact likely -- that there are a small number of people that have been affected with longer-term health problems," Postlewaite said Monday in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.
As recently as last month, Postlewaite had maintained the Defense Department's years-old position on the issue, telling Stars and Stripes that "only minor, temporary effects have been identified with the burn pit smoke." In July he told the Military Times that an assessment of the burn pit at the largest U.S. facility in Iraq, Joint Air Base Balad, found "no indication of any long-term health risks in personnel."
It was the sight and smell of the Balad pit that led an environmental engineer from Hill Air Force Base to write a memo calling the acres-large inferno "an acute health hazard."
In the memo, Air Force officer
Darrin Curtis warned that dozens of toxins, including arsenic, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, were going up in smoke at the Balad pit. U.S. service members and contractors were burning hundreds of tons of weapons, chemicals, plastics -- and even amputated limbs from the nearby theater hospital -- each week.
Curtis' memo set off widespread speculation that smoke from the Balad pit, and possibly others, was to blame for myriad health problems faced by returning veterans. But Curtis, who has since separated from the Air Force, told The Tribune he didn't intend to be a whistleblower -- he only wanted to help loosen the bureaucratic purse strings holding back money for a long-promised incinerator.
"It wasn't one of those 'God and country' things," Curtis said. "I wasn't trying to sacrifice myself. It was 2006. We'd gotten there in 2003. It had been forever and these things weren't getting fixed. My understanding was that there were different allowances for money depending on whether something was a health issue or wasn't a health issue, and I wrote the memo just so that everyone would know it was a health issue."
Relying on air and blood samples taken in early 2006, however, the military contended it had no reason to believe service members exposed to the Balad pit would suffer anything more than short-term respiratory problems and irritated eyes.
That position ran contrary to the contention of hundreds who had served at Balad and were dealing with long-term respiratory illnesses and other more serious problems.
Last month, Jill Wilkins began collecting such stories on a Facebook page devoted to those exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wilkins' husband, Kevin, served his first tour of duty in Balad in 2006. He died of a brain tumor in 2008. Dozens of others who have posted on Wilkins' site have told of loved ones who suffered or died from rare forms of blood disorders and cancer, including leukemia.
"It can't all be coincidence," said one of the site's members, JoAnne Och, whose son Steven is one of several people named on the site who died of Acute myeloid leukemia shortly after returning from Balad. "For one thing, you don't send sick troops over there, so for all of these people to be coming home with these very serious problems, there's something causing that."
The change in the military's position on the issue comes shortly after President Barack Obama pledged that health concerns related to burn pits would not become another Agent Orange.
"Nobody is served by denial or sweeping things under the rug," Obama told a roundtable of military reporters in August.
Regardless of past denials, the military has taken steps to clean up its waste disposal operations. Since 2006, it has purchased and installed dozens of incinerators for use in Iraq, including at Balad. In October, Obama signed a law prohibiting open-air burning of medical and hazardous waste except in which the secretary of defense deems there is no alternative.
Postlewaite declined to say what diseases he believed were most likely tied to burn pit exposure, saying it "would be premature for me to comment."
But he said studies are under way to try to determine the most likely related illnesses. "You've got to do some preliminary studies to generate the hypotheses that then you would test with larger studies," he said.
Postlewaite said he doesn't know how long it will take to test his new suspicions. Complicating matters, he said, is the possibility that exposure to smoke from the pits wasn't the only factor making people sick -- it may have been a combination of exposure and other causes that led to long-term illnesses.
"Our best guess is that there are some individuals that have an increased susceptibility to the smoke," he said. "It could be genetic or some pre-existing health condition... and it also could have been based on combined exposures."
At this point, he said, "we really don't know."
Military: Burn pits caused illnesses
This has become one of my pet issues since I was first contacted by Jill Wilkins about the VA claims process, what happened in Balad AFB, and other open bit burning sites, in Iraq and Afghanisatn is dangerous to military and civilians both contractors and the public that live down wind from the "burn pits" we also have a responsibility to the Iraqi and Afghani people exposed to these toxic soups besides our soldiers, Air Force Personnel, Navy Marines and Coast Guard assigned to these areas.
These people getting cancers, and rare blood disorders, have NO familty history of these type of medical issues. There appears to be a simple cause and effect, open burn pits people get sick, incinerators used no health problems, a simple math problem. I am one happy to see we have a President that is not willing to allow the DOD sweep this issue under the carpet as they have done in the past with Agent Orange, nuclear test victims, human experiments done during WW2 and the Cold War using chemical weapons and drugs, or biological weapons that were covered up first by National Security Act violations, if the soldiers talked about them they WOULD be prosecuted and sent to Leavenworth Prison for 25 years. That kept mouths shut for decades, but like all secrets involving tens of thousands of people, it came out, even SHAD/112 with about 6000 people.
My only surprise is that DOD was able to keep it a secret or at least maintained denialability for decades, until the late 80s,the 90s and finally the early 2000's when SHAD/112 finally was admitted to and DOD started releasing the dates and names of the ships involved in the open sea tests, the worst part of SHAD/112 was that none of the Navy personnel were even volunteers for experiments they were ordered by ship assignment to particpate in these open sea trials, and most never even knew what they were exposed to, why, or told what possible health problems they might face.
Edgewood Arsenal, Dugway Proving Grounds and Fort Detrick, the perseonnel used in these experiments at least volunteerd to be there, in most cases they were not told what they were being exposed to like LSD, or Sarin, mustard agents or any of the other substances they used from 1955 - 1975 in all 254 different substances were used on 7120 men, most will argue that we signed consent forms, yes we did, but we were never giving all the information we should have been told, we did not give "informed consent" which is required for all human experimentation, as required by the Nueremburg Codes of 1947, that we were prominent in establishing so we could prosecute the germans after WW2.
The DOD has used the IOM to do a few studies after the tests became public, but the contracts they wrote specifically construed the studies to only focus on one substance per se, like Sarin in March 2003 and ignore all other substances, despite knowing that mustard agents were also present at Kamisayah Iraq in march 1991 when they destroyed the Iraqi ammunition dumps. They also ignored other known health studies by the national Institute of Health that showed most body systems could be affected by Sarin exposure, they used the Edgewood Veterans as a control group for their Sarin Study that would be used to either grant or deny GW1 veterans, compensation claims.
The Edgewood veterans have a 75% death and disability rate as of FY2000 when they gathered the last long term health effects for that march 2003 Sarin study. They ignored all other exposures the other 253 substances, there is a group of veterans that are suing the DOD, Army and CIA over the Cold War experiments and this group has almost 100% disabled partially and 50% are totally disabled, what is the total of the 4022 men they found in FY2000? I doubt if DOD even wants to learn. Maybe the lawsuit will force them to.
I am glad the military of today has a Commander in Chief that is not going to allow this to Burn pit issue to be "buried" by bean counters at the Pentagon, 7 years into a war they should not have been using open pit burning still, it was a known health issue, yet they chose to continue doing it, now they have personnel sick, dead and families asking why? This did NOT have to happen for this long.
I am sure Major Wilkins would be proud of the work his wife Jill has done to bring this to the publics attention and to Congress's and the White House, she is a true patriot. I am sure she wished she was not at the lead in this battle, nor had to have the motivation she did to get into this issue, she and her children paid a high price over this, the loss of her husband and their father.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Military: Burn pits caused illnesses