Saturday, October 17, 2015

A new generation’s Agent Orange: The waste of war in Iraq & Afghanistan

Waste environmental pollution caused by potentially hazardous emissions caused by the use of open-air burn pits during the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan may have created a new generation’s “Agent Orange.”

Author Eric Bonds, reports that, “During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US Department of Defense (DoD) burned the majority of its solid waste in open-air pits or trenches. For many years, in fact, this was the only form of waste disposal at most bases (GAO 2010, IoM 2011). It is well known that the uncontrolled burning of plastics, Styrofoam, electronics, unexploded weapons, and other manufactured and highly processed materials releases harmful toxins and particulate matter into the air.”

The report evaluates statistical data, comments concerning the acrid smell of burn-pit emissions, as well as satellite images, that demonstrate pollution from open-air trash burning on US bases. Bond reports that at the Balad Air Base in Iraq (2003 to late 2009), it incinerated up to 300 tons of waste per day at its peak. The open-air burn pit “continuously produced a column of smoke” so high it was even incorporated by programs for simulated flight navigation at the air base.

The report states that, “Thousands of US soldiers and other coalition troops were exposed to burn-pit emissions, which have been linked with toxins known to cause negative health outcomes. These chemicals include dioxins, ‘acetaldehyde, acrolein, arsenic, benzene … ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, various metals, nitrogen dioxide, phosgene, sulfuric acid, sulfur dioxide, toluene, trichloroethane, trichloropropane, and xylene’ (Curtis 2006). And just as important as the actual chemical constituents, burning trash at US bases without controls produced pollution in the form of very small particulate matter, which can get lodged in human lungs and is associated with a number of chronic illnesses (IoM2011).”

The author concludes that the same strategy of “denial” only works so long and then the truth is revealed. He reflects that the denial strategy was utilized early on concerning “Agent Orange.,” decades ago. It was a toxic herbicide utilized by US in the Vietnam War. Subsequently, exposure to Agent Orange was recognized as a substance that was causally related to serious medical conditions.

Click here to read, Bonds, E., Legitimating the environmental injustices of war: toxic exposures and media silence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Environmental Politics, 25 Sep 2015.

A consolidated lawsuit is now proceeding ahead in the US District Court against KBR, a government contractor. The lawsuit alleges that KBR, exposed American service members and private civilian contract workers to dangerous and toxic fumes from its unauthorized use of open-air surface burn pits. The exposed individuals and their families brought a lawsuit against KBR for its allegedly improper use of the burn pits and for failing to warn veterans and civilians of the hazards of being exposed.

The cases allege that prolonged exposure to the burn pits' smoke, ash and fumes that may have resulted in chronic diseases, risk of future illness and death. The lawsuit alleges that KBR burned large amounts of unsorted waste, including hazardous waste, medical waste, and human waste, at military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cases In re KBR Inc, Burn Pit Litigation, have been consolidated, and are venued in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Greenbelt Division, before Judge Roger W. Titus.

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

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