In their August 1 episode of The Stream, Al Jazeera English explores the plight of US veterans and Iraqi and American civilians exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and the US. Although Obama outlawed the use of war zone burn pits, they continue to operate on 200 military bases across the US.*
Historically burn pits have been used to dispose of munitions, metals, plastics, chemicals and corpses, releasing a host of toxic chemicals to the atmosphere.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) listed 110,989 veterans and service members in its latest burn pits registry. However, as with Agent Orange exposure, the VA has been slow to investigate burn pit related illnesses and routinely denies medical benefits to veterans who become chronically ill from burn pit exposure. They most commonly suffer from acute and debilitating respiratory illnesses and throat, lung and brain cancers and leukemia.
In addition to highlighting a recent study of the birth defects and medical problems of Iraqi women and children exposed to burn pit fumes, the program questions why the Pentagon continues to operate nearly 200 open burn pits around the United States. According to a recent ProPublica investigation, these sites are getting rid of extremely toxic materials with little or no oversight and regulation, and often violate existing environment regulations.
At the Colfax plant in Louisiana, millions of pounds of munitions are burned just a few hundred yards from a small, mostly black community. High levels of toxic vapors like acrolein and benzene have been found in the air, which according to the World Health Organization have “no safe level of exposure.”
The program host interviews the widow of a US vet killed by burn pit exposure, as well as Iraqi and American scientists.
*Although President Obama outlawed the use of war-zone burned pits by executive order, a 2016 article in Stars and Stripes suggests US military bases continue to use them in Iraq.