Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lawmakers ask for review of burn pit data; hundreds of service people have come forward with health problems with possible links to burning of toxins

From the Air Force Times:

After learning the Defense Department’s safety testing of a burn pit at Joint Base Balad in Iraq may have “significant methodological problems,” several lawmakers have requested a review by the Government Accountability Office.

“The [military] study found that exposures to burn-pit operations were at levels that constitute an ‘acceptable’ health risk for both cancer and non-cancer long-term health effects,” states the letter, dated May 22. “Based on our conversations with independent scientists, we are concerned that long-term adverse health effects cannot be ruled out on the basis of this study, and we would like the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the study’s methodology and findings.”

The letter comes after a series of Military Times articles showed troops have burned everything from petroleum products to dioxin-producing plastic bottles at bases throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the first reports were published in October, more than 200 service members have come forward with complaints of asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs, rashes, leukemia and lymphomas.

Class-action lawsuits also have been filed in nine states against KBR, the Defense Department contractor that operated many of the burn pits, and Disabled American Veterans has begun collecting names for a database of people potentially exposed to the burn pits.

Legislation also was recently introduced to more tightly regulate the military’s use of burn pits in the war zone and more closely track the potential health effects of troops exposed to smoke from the pits.

Military officials have said there are no “known long-term” health effects of exposure to the burn pits.

The military’s testing of the burn pit at Balad — the largest in Iraq, with disposal operations at one point reaching 240 tons of garbage a day — showed troops were not being exposed to chemicals beyond the military’s exposure guidelines.

"We have been informed that the joint study may have significant methodological problems and that this study cannot rule out the possibility of adverse health effects,” the letter states, referring to the testing the military conducted at Balad. “In particular, we are concerned that many service members were deployed for more than one year to Iraq or may be more susceptible for genetic or other health reasons.”

Whether the service members’ ailments are connected to the burn pits will determine whether they receive health and disability benefits from the government for service-connected injuries and illnesses.

The letter is signed by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; Evan Bayh, D-Ind.; Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Reps. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Bob Filner, D-Calif.; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.; Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.; Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.; Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa.; and David Wu, D-Ore.

“A significant number of the roughly two million service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to military burn pits,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is important that we fully understand the potential ramifications of this exposure to their health.”