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Toxic burn pits: A story of wounded soldiers & environmental disaster

Toxic Burn Pits
Toxic Burn Pits
Copyright: WitthayaP Shutterstock user

Something that is not really common knowledge is how important it is for the military to be able to quickly and safely dispose of hazardous waste and toxic chemicals - especially during a time of war. The preferred method of disposal is to utilize an incinerator. However, defense contractor KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton) failed in their duty to properly handle this in many cases within our Iraq and Afghanistan encampments from 2003 until 2013. Their actions ultimately harmed many of the troops overseas and wreaked havoc with the environment.

Instead of following the proper course of action, KBR made the unfortunate choice to cut corners and save money by burning the sensitive waste in open pits throughout the war. Their actions triggered life-changing events for many troops who suffer from exposure to the chemical byproducts that were released into the air and spread over the land.

The Impact on Our Soldiers

The decision to opt for toxic burn pits to dispose of hundreds of tons of waste per day has left both veterans and enlisted soldiers battling with medical issues. The burn pit fumes constitute a devastating hazard comparable to Agent Orange, the chemical which caused so much distress to soldiers in the Vietnam War.

Physical results experienced by the troops include autoimmune disorders, certain types of cancers, neurological disorders, reproductive system issues, cardiopulmonary disorders, respiratory disorders and issues with the central nervous system, kidneys, liver and eyes. Research indicates that soldiers did not even need to be directly exposed to the fumes and smoke because it was able to also contaminate nearby food sources.

Burn Pit Disposal of Toxic Waste

In an attempt to eliminate accumulated waste, there were several toxic chemicals and even human waste and body parts which went into the open-air pits. Other items included pesticides, rubber and plastic water bottles, asbestos, hydrocarbons, lithium-ion batteries, and many chemicals that have been banned in the United States.

Bottom line, civilian companies contracted by the government for our military needs were ignoring all of the standard safety guidelines about waste disposal, so it is no wonder that people have become ill. Jet fuel kept the grim laundry list of military waste burning 24/7 in these forward operating bases (FOBs).

Troops were oblivious to the harm it was causing to their health. Black vapors from the slow, smoldering open burn pits drifted through the air, and white ash was created from smoke permeating living quarters. The troops continued to breathe in the noxious fumes and ash, unaware that deadly toxins were slowly leaching into their lungs.

A War’s Environmental Effects

Not only did these actions have a catastrophic impact on human health, but it has most likely harmed at least that region’s environment, as well. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is firmly opposed to burning any category of waste. Their stance is that the burning of waste is harmful to people and the environment. Professionals working with the EPA and air quality researchers have released studies that make it clear that the burn pits are a recipe for disaster.

Tragically, contractors ignored all of the data that was released about this horrible practice. It might take a while for the entire impact that these pits had on the environment to become clear. But it is likely that residents in those areas will continue to experience health issues due to contaminated soil and water sources.

It is hard to believe, in this day and age, that the open burning of waste products known to be harmful to humans and our planet would be undertaken by anyone with even a limited education. We should never replace global good solely for the benefit of expediency or budget.

Veterans Affairs Denies Burn Pit Harm

According to an official statement by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, there is presently not enough hard scientific data available that the soldiers will experience long-term health effects caused by the toxins from the pits. They are obviously downplaying the issues that enlisted soldiers and veterans are facing, most likely because the government doesn’t want to deal with any major legal issues related to the incident.

Yet, the Department of Defense knew - at least internally - that open air burning of garbage was not a safe option to cleaning up after after military operations. They published a series of waste-management guidelines in 1978, warning that open burn pits were an unsafe option only to be used when they had no other alternative. The DOD confirms that waste should be burned in an incinerator or closed landfill.

Legal Recourse for Our Troops

Soldiers and military veterans harmed by the fumes of the military waste have realized that their health is in serious jeopardy. They are now left in need of diagnostic work and continuing medical care due to the health problems resulting from their toxic exposure. U.S. corporations, such as KBR are not above the law, and are legally accountable for misconduct.

If you are a victim of the deadly black smoke of the toxic burn pits, it’s crucial to choose the legal firm if you wish to win compensation on a scale commensurate to the gravity of your injuries and losses. The partners at Doyle Raizner LLP are themselves from military families, and they have won millions in jury awards for veterans with burn pits injuries.

The fallout from the toxic burn pits highlights the importance of strictly enforcing all military and government contractors to adhere to EPA standards, even when they are performing work outside of the country.