Thursday, February 10, 2011

Senators Schumer and Nelson Told Military to Issue Respirator Masks for Soldiers Who Work Near Burn Pits

U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced today that, in response to their recent request, the military has agreed to identify ways to promote greater access and use of protective equipment to service members who work near toxic ‘burn pits’ in the war zone.

Across Iraq and Afghanistan, waste – including human waste, plastic, batteries and scrap metals – have been incinerated in these burn pits, using jet fuel. The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently begun acknowledging that exposure to open burn pits has caused illnesses in those stationed near them. Two months ago, a veteran originally from West Babylon, New York, and living in Spring Hill, Florida, died from cancer linked to exposure to fumes from a burn pit.

In January, Schumer and Nelson wrote to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urging him to promptly issue guidance that requires protective respirator masks to be made available to all troops working in or near the pits. The two lawmakers wrote the letter following the death of the 41-year-old Army Sgt. William McKenna.

“All our front line troops can breathe a little easier today. There is no job more important than protecting the health of the men and women who put their lives on the line, every day, to protect our nation.” said Schumer. “It was shocking to learn that our brave troops were asked to monitor these toxic ‘burn-pits’ without adequate protection, and it is only right that the brass has promptly responded to our pleading that these troops be afforded every protection possible, in terms of both equipment and procedure.”

Said Nelson, “Our chief concern here always needs to be the welfare of the men and women who are on the front lines fighting for us.”

In a Feb. 7 letter to the two lawmakers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military is “in the process of gathering additional information and within the next 60 days will identify ways to promote greater access and use of protective equipment.” U.S. Navy Admiral M. G. “Mike” Mullen, in his letter to Schumer and Nelson, also wrote that “local commanders are also ensuring burn pits are operated in a safe, secure area and inspected regularly.”

To date, hundreds of veterans have complained of illnesses they believe were caused by exposure to the pits, forcing the Pentagon to restrict their use and the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate. About 300 victims or their families have sought representation in a class-action lawsuit against KBR, the military contractor that operated some of the burn pits at bases in Iraq. The company is fighting the suit, filed in federal court in Maryland, claiming that it operated some pits at the military’s direction, while most were operated by the Army.

In response to complaints from the veterans and pressure from lawmakers, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has provided money for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study of the possible consequences of burn-pit exposure. This year, the VA issued new guidelines for its staff to be on the lookout for veterans with illnesses that may have been caused by burn-pit exposure.

lawsuit was filed alleging that KRB, Inc.
(NYSE KRB) endangered the health and safety of American soldiers in
Iraq and Afghanistan by exposing them to huge quantities of toxic 
dust, fumes and other air pollution by burning unsorted waste in vast 
open-air pits without any safety controls.

Click here to read more about burn pit claims for benefits and lawsuits. Call Jon L. Gelman at 973.696.7900 or e-mail