By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Posted : Friday May 22, 2009 11:21:59 EDT
Two lawmakers have unveiled a bill that would bar the military from operating burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than six months and also would require the Defense Department to identify service members who already may have been exposed to such toxins. “We should not continue to recklessly use burn pits to dispose of hazardous waste across Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., who introduced the bill with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H. “Disturbing reports are coming to light every day about these burn pits and the toll they are taking on the health of many of our service men and women,” Bishop said. The bill comes in the wake of a series of stories in Military Times documenting that hundreds of tons of waste are burned daily in Afghanistan and Iraq with little oversight. Troops report burning everything from dioxin-producing plastic bottles to petroleum waste to amputated limbs. In a memo dated Dec. 20, 2006, Air Force Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, former bioenvironmental flight commander for Joint Base Balad, wrote of the burn pit at that Iraq base: “In my professional opinion, there is an acute health hazard for individuals. There is also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke.” He said contaminants, many highly poisonous, that troops may have been exposed to include benzene, an aircraft fuel known to cause leukemia; arsenic; dichlorofluoromethane, or Freon; carbon monoxide; ethylbenzene; formaldehyde; hydrogen cyanide; nitrogen dioxide; sulfuric acid; and xylene. Defense officials say the burn pits do not pose serious health risks — only temporary issues, such as coughing or red eyes. However, more than 200 people have contacted Military Times with similar symptoms that they believe are linked to their exposure to burn-pit smoke, such as lymphomas, leukemia, sudden onset of asthma, chronic coughs, sleep apnea and headaches.