Experts believe that smoke from these burn pits jeopardizes the health of troops, and that other methods of disposal should be used.
"As we approach Veterans Day, we are all reminded of the heroic service and sacrifice of our troops who give of themselves to protect the freedom of all Americans. As a grateful nation, we must do all we can to ensure that their health is not at risk as they fulfill their missions abroad. By reducing the prevalence of burn pits and transitioning to other methods of disposal, we can greatly improve the quality of life and health for our troops. Costs associated with these other disposal methods have been a barrier to their implementation. However, though costs may increase in the short-term, the long-term savings could be substantial. As burn pit use is reduced, related medical treatments will decline for the servicemen and women who are exposed to this hazardous smoke," said Lincoln.
Lincoln's comments follow a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing held earlier today to examine the health risks associated with the continued use of open-air burn pits by the U.S. military and contractor KBR in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the hearing, Arkansan Lt. Col. Darrin L. Curtis, Ph.D., (Ret.) of Mountain Home testified about the "acute health risk" for servicemen and women exposed to the smoke from burn pits. Curtis was deployed to Balad Air Base in Iraq from September 2006 to January 2007, with the responsibility of assessing hazards to airmen and other personnel on base in coordination with the Army preventive medicine detachment.
"Open pit burning may only be practical when it is the only available option and should only be used in the interim until other ways of disposal can be found. This interim fix should not be years, but more in the order of months," said Curtis, a bioenvironmental engineer with nearly 27 years in the United States Army and Air Force, serving the last 20 years as a biomedical science corps officer with the United States Air Force.
Other hearing witnesses testified that plastics, paint, solvents, petroleum products, rubber, and medical waste have been burned in the pits.
Although military guidelines allow the use of burn pits to dispose of waste only in emergency situations, most large U.S. military installations have continued to use burn pits for years, despite growing evidence that exposure to burn pit smoke may be causing an increased incidence of chronic lung diseases, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and cancer.