Thursday, July 25, 2013

VA Extends Public Comment Deadline to Comment on Proposed Proposed Information Collection on Open Burn Pit Registry Airborne Hazard Self-Assessment Questionnaire

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is extending the comment period for the notice published June 5, 2013 (78 FR 33894), and posting the draft questionnaire that was the subject of that notice, on the VA's Web site.
Written comments and recommendations on the proposed collection of information should be received on or before August 20, 2013.

The US Department of  Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced that it is accepting public comments on the establishment of The Burn Pit Registry. The VA has been mandated by Congress to establish a Burn Pit Registry to monitor those in military service who may have been exposed to toxic agents as a result of burn pit exposures while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is announcing an opportunity for public comment on the proposed collection of certain information by the agency. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) of 1995, Federal agencies are required to publish notice in the Federal Register concerning each proposed collection of information, including each proposed new collection, and allow 60 days for public comment in response to the notice. This notice solicits comments for information needed to ascertain and monitor the health effects of the exposure of members of the Armed Forces to toxic airborne chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits."


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Senators Udall and Coker Request An End To the Dangerous Use of Burn Pits in Afghanistan

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced they have sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking for immediate action to halt the use of open-air burn pits at two camp sites supporting Operating Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Their letter follows reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that found the burn pits were utilized without need and at great danger to the health of U.S. military and civil personnel.

The letter builds on bipartisan legislation coauthored by Udall and Corker and signed into law earlier this year to create a registry of service members and veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Udall
In the letter, the senators noted an April 30, 2013, Inspector General report that found evidence of the ongoing use of open-air burn pits in Afghanistan despite regulations against their use when on-base incinerators are available to dispose of and burn trash instead. The report was followed up by an "alert" letter by the SIGAR on July 11, 2013.

According to the July SIGAR letter, incinerators are not being used - or are not being used "to full capacity" -- because "a contract for their operation and maintenance had not been awarded," despite $11.5 million spent to purchase and install the incinerators. "As a result, the camp was relying heavily on open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its solid waste. However, Department of Defense guidance and a U.S. Central Command regulation limit the use of open-air burn pit operations. Camp Leatherneck is in violation of this guidance and regulation," the SIGAR concluded.

Udall and Corker wrote in response: "We are concerned that despite these precautions required by statute and military directives, our men and women now serving in uniform are still being exposed to open-air burn pits. Last year, we introduced and passed the Open Burn Pits Registry Act, and today we are working to ensure that our veterans and service members are made aware of the dangers posed by their exposure. The men and women of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan deserve better."

The senators also requested a timeline for the prompt closure of the burn pits at Forward Operating Base Salerno and Camp Leatherneck, both in Afghanistan, and an explanation from the Department of Defense for why it did not fully utilize alternative waste disposal methods. The senators additionally asked that "service members who have been exposed to air pollution caused by the open-air burn pits be notified about the dangers of their exposure, and that their service records indicate that they have served in an area where open-air burn pits were used."

Camp Leatherneck currently consists of about 13,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel. The Inspector General's July letter noted the health concerns associated with breathing the toxic smoke emissions from open-air burn pits: "The toxic smoke from burning solid waste increases the long-term health risks for camp personnel, including reduced lung function and exacerbated chronic illness, ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease."

Udall became an advocate for a burn pit registry after meeting Albuquerque veteran MSgt. Jessey Baca and his wife Maria. MSgt. Baca has faced a multitude of health problems believed to be associated with burn pits and has advocated for helping service members in similar situations.

The law championed by Udall and Corker mandates establishment of an open-air burn pit registry, similar to those created to track Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome, for individuals who may have been exposed during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. It aims to help the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determine to what extent air pollution caused by open-air burn pits has led to medical conditions among service members. It also includes a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry and periodically notify registry members of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.

The registry has not yet been established by the VA, and multiple senators have pressed the VA to accelerate its progress and increase outreach to affected veterans. Udall, a member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, successfully includedlanguage in the FY 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill urging the VA to detail its implementation efforts for the registry, improve and present a plan for increasing outreach to veterans and their families affected by open-air burn pits, and provide an explanation of how the VA plans to inform VA physicians about the findings of the registry to improve care for veterans. The committee's report requires the VA to present its plan within 60 days.

The full text of Udall and Corker's letter can be viewed below.
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Click here to read more about burn pit claims for benefits and lawsuits. Contact Jon L. Gelman to submit your information.
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Inspector General Reports Waste Incinerators at Forward Operating Bases Not Being Used

The Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that there is underutilization of waste incinerators at Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan.

"An issue potentially endangering the health of U.S. military and civilian personnel supporting 
the mission in Afghanistan has come to my attention that I believe requires your immediate 
action. Specifically, Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province is underutilizing its four solid waste 
incinerators and, as a result, is continuing to use open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its 
daily waste. We recently noted in an inspection report concerning waste incinerators at Forward 
Operating Base Salerno that there are health concerns associated with breathing the smoke 
emissions from open-air burning.1 The toxic smoke from burning solid waste each day increases 
the long-term health risks for camp personnel, including reduced lung function and exacerbated 
chronic illnesses, ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I am also 
concerned that, in its efforts to terminate open-air burn pit operations, the camp is pursuing a 
$1.1 million contract, which may not be necessary, for hauling its solid waste to a local landfill. 

"Camp Leatherneck, currently consisting of about 13,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel, 
spent $11.5 million to purchase and install two 12-ton and two 24-ton capacity incinerators. My 
inspectors made several visits to the camp and found that the 12-ton incinerators were not 
being used to full capacity and the 24-ton incinerators were not being used at all because a 
contract for their operation and maintenance had not been awarded. As a result, the camp was 
relying heavily on open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its solid waste. However, 
Department of Defense guidance and a U.S. Central Command regulation limit the use of openair burn pit operations. Camp Leatherneck is in violation of this guidance and regulation. 

"Camp officials advised that they are planning to eventually use all four incinerators and are 
looking into the feasibility of contracting to have any excess solid waste hauled to a local 
landfill. In mid-June 2013, my office was notified that a contract was about to be awarded for 
operating and maintaining the two 24-ton incinerators and that a contract for hauling trash offsite should be in place by the end of July 2013. These are positive steps toward the cessation \ of open-burn pit operations. However, if the base incinerators were used to their full capacity, 
hauling trash off-site may not be necessary. 

"My office’s analysis shows that, given Camp Leatherneck’s 13,500 personnel, the solid waste 
generated each day could be processed by operating all four incinerators at least 18 hours a 
day. According to the manufacturer, these incinerators are built to operate 24 hours a day, 7 
days a week. The analysis also shows that as Camp Leatherneck’s drawdown continues and 
eventually reaches 12,000 personnel, it would be capable of processing all daily solid waste by 

"Spent for Unused Incinerators and the Continued Use of Potentially Hazardous Open-Air Burn Pit 
Operations (April 25, 2013). IGAR/Camp Leatherneck Incinerators 
operating only three incinerators—one 12-ton and two 24-ton—for 20 hours per day. 
Consequently, making efficient and effective use of the incinerators would enable the camp to 
terminate open-air burn pits operations and possibly eliminate the need for the trash hauling 
contract. 

"Accordingly, you should consider terminating the use of Camp Leatherneck’s open-air burn pit 
operations as quickly as possible by ensuring that the camp’s 12-ton incinerators are used to 
their full capacity and by awarding an operation and maintenance contract for the 24-ton 
incinerators. In addition, I suggest that you reevaluate the need for the $1.1 million contract for 
hauling the camp’s solid waste to a local landfill in light of the incinerators’ capability to process 
all the waste.