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

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Since 2003, approximately two-million United States service members have deployed to Iraq in support of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. Increased rates of respiratory illnesses have been discovered in otherwise healthy soldiers who have been to Iraq. Our mission is to explore unknown, underlying, chronic and often terminal, systemic condition(s) veterans may suffer from upon returning from combat.

Upon returning home from war, physical pieces of Iraq still linger deep inside many service members causing unexplained symptoms, debilitating physical ailments and rare forms of diseases that is more commonly seen in a 72-year-old rather than a previously healthy, athletic 26-year old (Miller, 2013).


Service members who have deployed to Iraq experienced numerous inhalation exposures related to environmental sand and dust storms, combat-related smoke from ordnance, explosions as well as on-base exposures to oil, diesel fumes and open-air burn pits (Miller, 2013). A “burn pit” is used to describe a hole within the ground to quickly and effectively dispose of waste/garbage. This pit is ignited with diesel fuel and smolders for weeks/months at a time and some often around the clock. The concerning issue is what is being burned within the pits...


By May 2003, American forces had constructed and operated 250 burn pits to be used for waste disposal on Joint-Base Balad, Iraq; burning operations ran 24 hours, 7 days a week to keep up with accumulating trash on base (Hickman, 2016). It was estimated that every soldier within a combat zone creates approximately 10 pounds of trash per day, estimating 140 tons of trash per day burned on average, which peaked in 2007 at Joint-Base Balad with 240 tons of trash burned in one day (Reiss, 2012).


In 2006, an official risk assessment conducted by Air Force Personnel titled “Burn Pit Hazards” at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, was “the worst environmental site I have personally visited” and continued to list items witnessed being burned in high quantities including plastics, Styrofoam and both medical and non-medical wastes while using jet-propellant-8 (JP-8) fuel as an accelerant (Curtis, 2006).


Professional opinions stated that there is “…an acute health hazard for individuals… also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke…” (Curtis, 2006).

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