By Donna Miles | American Forces Press Service : Friday, August 07, 2009
As the military prepares to step up its already robust environmental health monitoring program to identify possible health consequences of “burn pit” smoke exposures in the combat theater, President Barack Obama has pledged to ensure troops are protected, and any related ailments treated. “I’m absolutely convinced that our commanders in theater are doing everything they can to protect their men and women,” the president told military reporters during a roundtable interview earlier this week at the White House. But as the facts are sorted out — an evolving process as more samples are collected and scientific data generated — Obama vowed to bring them to light so they can benefit service members and veterans. “My overriding mandate to my agencies is that you get the best science possible, and then you make decisions on how we can protect our men and women in uniform,” he said. “How can we treat those who have been harmed?” At issue are open-air “burn pits” initially constructed in the combat theater to dispose of solid wastes. Force protection issues during the combat phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom precluded hauling this waste off base for destruction, explained Dr. Craig Postlewaite, the Pentagon’s force readiness and health assurance director, assigned to the office of the deputy assistant secretary for force health protection and readiness. Some troops who were deployed near these pits blame the smoke they emitted for causing respiratory problems, blood disorders and other ailments. While conceding that these service members and veterans have genuine health issues, Postlewaite said none of the data gathered so far provides concrete evidence that burn pit smoke is the culprit.