Burn Pits: The "Agent Orange" of the Iraq War


These images depict the “battlespace environment”, terrain and landscape that veterans in Iraq had to fight, live in, travel and breath. Seasonal winds are key climatic factors and have dust-creating potential, during these storms, toxins and particulate matter are picked up and caught in the hazy-yellow orange color hovering cloud that can be upwards of 4,000-feet in height and take hours, possibly days to pass (Lyles, 2012).

Image(s) 1 and 2 depict a before and during sandstorm event at an undisclosed location in Iraq in 2006.

Image 3 shows a 4,000-ft dust wall rolling into Al Asad Air Base on April 26, 2005 and would take 45-minutes to pass. Photo credit: GySgt. Shannon Arledge

Image 4 shows a United States Marines preparing to conduct post-attack reconnaissance sweep at Joint-Base Balad during a sand storm on July 22, 2005. Photo credit: SSgt. Chad Chislom

Dust storms sweep through Iraq regularly causing minimal visibility and small particulate matter to land on whatever truck, tent or veteran exposed. The microscopic dust would collect and carry a variety of toxins, carcinogens and bacteria’s from numerous sources (such as open-air burn pits) and blow them throughout the air usually layering a majority of the military base with a dust covering of fine sand, dust and black soot.

Evidence from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) found that sand in the Middle East contains a rare, unique mixture of heavy metals such as calcium, lead and titanium (Engelbrecht et al., 2008), parasites like Leishmaniasis and Plasmodium resulting in malaria (White, Davis & Walter, 2005) and indoor and outdoor aeroallergens from date trees and aspergillus mold (Szema, 2013).

Those heavy metals are known neurotoxins in their solid form but become even more lethal when burned and inhaled, deeming them likely to trigger or exacerbate adverse respiratory symptoms (Drummond, 2013).