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Toxic Burn Pits

Photo of Muhammad Aziz

Every day thousands of tons of garbage are burned in "burn pits" at military installations across Iraq and Afghanistan. Houston based contractors KBR and Halliburton were contracted and paid by the U.S. government to properly dispose of waste products at specific U.S. bases. However, although both KBR and Halliburton agreed to follow all U.S. laws and U.S. Environmental Protection guidelines, many of these burn pits were constructed upwind from living quarters, allowing the toxic smoke and ash from these fires to settle like a haze on camps housing military personnel. Anything and everything is burned in these pits, including dead animals, asbestos insulation, paints, solvents, lithium batteries, plastics, and even trucks.

The Texas Army National Guard has felt the effects of the noxious smoke that billows daily into their compound. Soldiers from the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team describe how the acrid-smelling fumes hover over them like a blanket, leaving pools of yellowish, metallic looking water on the ground. These soldiers routinely suffer from migraines, sleep apnea, asthma, skins rashes, and in the extreme cases, cancer.

There are several pending federal lawsuits involving more than 300 plaintiffs alleging that KBR and the other contractors improperly designed and operated the burn pits. The plaintiffs complain of negligence, battery, and the willful and wanton conduct of Halliburton and KBR burning toxic waste they knew would release harmful carcinogens. While the outcome of these cases is uncertain, the American Lung Association has voiced its concern over the negative effects on lung health of the soldiers from these pits and recommended that the Department of Defense find alternatives immediately. Until something is done to stop this practice, there is little to stop this modern-day "agent-orange" from harming out troops well after they have returned to the "safety" of home.

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