REPRESENTATIVES SHEA-PORTER AND BISHOP HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE ON DANGERS OF BURN PITS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN

Hundreds of veterans report illnesses after exposure to toxic burn pits

New legislation would require investigation, ban improper use

June 11, 2009

 

Washington, DC—On Thursday, Representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Tim Bishop, sick veterans and their families, and scientists held a press conference at the U.S. Capitol to call for an end to the reckless use of burn pits to dispose of hazardous waste across Iraq and Afghanistan. There is mounting evidence that veterans may be ill—and some may have actually died—as a result of exposure to dangerous toxins produced by these burn pits.

 

A significant number of the roughly two million service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to these toxic burn pits, and hundreds of returning veterans are now displaying similar health symptoms. To date, the Department of Defense has maintained that burn pits pose no long-term health risks. However, Agent Orange and Persian Gulf Syndrome have taught us that we must be vigilant in monitoring and treating our veterans long after they have returned from the battlefield.

 

Following months of exchanges with the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration, Representative Tim Bishop (NY-1) recently introduced new legislation, the Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act (H.R.2419), to require a full investigation into the effects of burn pits and to prohibit their continued use. The full bill text is enclosed along with earlier correspondence with the VA, DOD and GAO.

 

“Burn pits expose our troops to dangerous toxins that can cause long-term health risks,” said Congresswoman Shea-Porter. “This important bill will help protect our service members by monitoring the use of burn pits and tracking the health problems they may cause.”

 

“I introduced this legislation with Congresswoman Shea-Porter because we should not continue to recklessly use burn pits to dispose of hazardous waste across Iraq and Afghanistan," said Congressman Bishop. "Disturbing reports are coming to light everyday about these burn pits and the toll they are taking on the health of many of our service men and women. Our troops should be free to focus on fighting the enemy without worrying how their lives may be further endangered by the actions of private contractors operating under different rules.”

 

For additional information and reports, please see www.burnpits.org.

 

Speaker Bios

 

Rep. Tim Bishop (NY-1) is the sponsor of Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act (H.R.2419)

 

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1) is the lead cosponsor of H.R.2419

 

Kerry Baker is Assistant National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans and is compiling a national database of sicknesses related to burn pits exposure.

 

Tom Tarantino is an Iraq veteran and Legislative Associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

 

Dr. Shira Kramer has over 30 years of diverse public health experience in all aspects and phases of epidemiological research. She is the co-author of two textbooks on epidemiology, and has founded two companies (Epidemiology International, Sterilex Corporation) focused on improving public health. Her areas of expertise include: cancer, environmental health, prenatal and perinatal epidemiology, occupational epidemiology, and biostatistics.

 

TSgt Derrol A. Turner, USAFR, is a reservist who was on active orders for over six years in support of OEF and OIF. He was deployed to Bagram AB, Afghanistan (Camp Cunningham) in spring of 2004. In 2005 Turner volunteered to go to Balad AB, Iraq, and spent 5 months there until 28 Dec 2005. An x-ray taken at the base clinic revealed two large nodules/masses in my lower right lung and a CT scan showed a total of seven nodules/masses in his right lung and scarring in his left. A Line of Duty confirmed the injury as active duty, deployment related. Turner contacted the VA and started a claim in November of 2007. He again deployed to Qatar for 4.5 months last summer and the claim was held until he was released from active duty in Sept 2008.

 

Anthony Roles is a 12 1/2 year veteran of the United States Airforce, and now a disabled veteran due to medical retirement. Roles was stationed at LSA Anaconda/Balad AFB from November 2003 through March 2004. While there, he experienced the burn pits on a daily basis, living less than a mile from them. After serving his tour, he was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocythemia in April of 2004, a disease that causes the body to produce increased platelets. He was later diagnosed with Polycythemia Vera, a very rare incurable cancer that affects 1 in a 100,000 people. This condition requires him to take a chemo pill daily and bloodletting once to twice a month. Roles also had a heart attack at the age of 30, due to complications of the medication.

 

Stacy Pennington is the sister of SSG Steve Ochs who served three tours in the Middle East starting in 2003 – 2007. Ochs served two tours in Iraq at Camp Anaconda near the Balad burn pit and at Joint Security Station Loyalty and Camp Liberty near burn pits. Ochs also spent one year in Afghanistan at three separate locations. Shortly after returning home from his last tour at the end of April 2007, Ochs started feeling ill and was misdiagnosed a couple times by military medical personnel and sent home. On September 28, 2007, he was diagnosed with Leukemia at his local public hospital and was sent directly to Duke University Hospital where he was officially diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, also known as AML. In just 10 months, this aggressive form of AML took his life on July 12, 2008. Steve was 32 years old and left behind a wife and 4 year old daughter.



Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Endorsement of H.R. 2419

 

Posted by Tom Tarantino on June 9 on www.iava.org

 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is pleased to offer our support for H.R.2419, the “Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Act.” H.R. 2419 would establish a medical surveillance system to identify members of the Armed Forces exposed to chemical hazards resulting from the disposal of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also would prohibit the disposal of waste by the Armed Forces in a manner that would produce dangerous levels of toxins.

 

More than six years into the war in Iraq and eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military continues daily disposal of hundreds of tons of war-zone waste in a most crude and hazardous manner — open-air burn pits. While a common practice within the Iraqi waste disposal system, the Department of Defense (DOD) has used open air burn pits as the primary means of waste disposal for its numerous FOBs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Servicemembers and contractors living on these bases are routinely exposed to the smoke from these pits as the winds shift and waste from medical facilities, trash, dining facilities, maintenance facilities, and other agencies on base is incinerated. Tactical restraints on the DOD and a general lack of a sanitation system in Iraq have forced the military to adopt this practice that Army field manuals lists as temporary and field expedient. After many years and 1.8 million troops deployed to OIF and OEF, the issue of exposure to hazardous materials from these burn pits is just now coming in to focus as members of Congress, the media and the veterans community are working to bring these hazards to light.

 

Hazardous exposure to toxic chemicals is not a new issue, and had been a major area of concern for veterans for over 40 years. During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed 77 million liters of chemical defoliants in South Vietnam as part of a defoliant program. After 40 years of lawsuits, the VA has now recognized 11 medical conditions for presumptive disability due to potential exposure to Agent Orange. Since 1991 veterans of the Gulf War have complained of a variety of illnesses from auto immune disorders to cancer; claiming that they were caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, depleted uranium and preventative medications. It wasn’t until 2008 that a study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that scientific evidence leaves no question that Persian Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans.

 

In hopes of determining if a connection between exposure to burn pits and chronic health ailments exist, members of Congress, the media, and the veterans community have set up www.burnpits.org, to collect official documents, news stories, and personal testimonies of servicemembers who may have health issues related to burn pit exposure. Additionally, Rep. Bishop introduced H.R. 2419.

 

By establishing a tracking registry and a method of continuous evaluation and examination, H.R. 2419 will greatly improve health services for servicemembers who may be suffering from illnesses related to toxic exposure. Additionally, by limiting the use of open air burn pits, this bill helps protect members of the Armed Forces from exposure to potentially hazardous waste while serving their country.

H.R.2419

Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act (Introduced in House)

HR 2419 IH

111th CONGRESS

1st Session

H. R. 2419

To require the Secretary of Defense to establish a medical surveillance system to identify members of the Armed Forces exposed to chemical hazards resulting from the disposal of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan, to prohibit the disposal of waste by the Armed Forces in a manner that would produce dangerous levels of toxins, and for other purposes.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

May 14, 2009

Mr. BISHOP of New York (for himself and Ms. SHEA-PORTER) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Armed Services

A BILL

To require the Secretary of Defense to establish a medical surveillance system to identify members of the Armed Forces exposed to chemical hazards resulting from the disposal of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan, to prohibit the disposal of waste by the Armed Forces in a manner that would produce dangerous levels of toxins, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act'.

SEC. 2. IDENTIFICATION OF HEALTH EFFECTS RELATED TO HAZARDOUS DISPOSAL SITE.

(a) Establishment- The Secretary of Defense shall establish and administer a system to identify members of the Armed Forces who were potentially exposed to a hazardous disposal site and any negative health effects that may be related to such exposure. The Secretary shall administer such system using existing medical surveillance systems.

(b) Notification- If the Secretary learns that a member of the Armed Forces was potentially exposed to a hazardous disposal site, the Secretary shall--

(1) give notice of the potential exposure to--

(A) the member;

(B) the commanding officer of the unit to which the member belonged at the time of potential exposure; and

(C) in the case of a member of the National Guard, the Adjutant General of the State concerned; and

(2) inform the member that the member may be included in the system required by subsection (a).

(b) Registration- For each member of the Armed Forces notified of a potential exposure under subsection (b), the Secretary shall collect information for purposes of the system required by subsection (a). Such information shall include--

(1) the locations that the member was deployed, including dates of such deployment;

(2) the approximate distance of the living and working quarters of the member from a hazardous disposal site;

(3) the types of materials disposed of at the site;

(4) the length of time the member was exposed to such site;

(5) any symptoms experienced by the member while deployed;

(6) any symptoms the member experiences at the time of submitting such information to the Secretary; and

(7) other information the Secretary considers appropriate.

(c) Examination- Not later than 30 days after the date on which the Secretary learns that a member of the Armed Forces was potentially exposed to a hazardous disposal site, and annually thereafter, the Secretary shall--

(1) provide such member--

(A) a complete physical examination; and

(B) consultation and counseling with respect to the results of such physical examination; and

(2) ensure that documentation of the potential exposure is placed in the medical record of the member maintained by the Department of Defense.

(d) Proposed Capabilities-

(1) SUFFICIENCY- The Secretary shall determine if existing medical surveillance systems are sufficient to identify all potential negative health effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous disposal site.

(2) REPORT- Not later than six months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to Congress a report with any recommendations to change existing medical surveillance systems in order to improve the identification of negative health effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous disposal site.

(e) Annual Report- Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the House of Representatives and the Senate a report describing--

(1) the status of implementing the system required by subsection (a); and

(2) the incidences of illnesses among members of the Armed Forces notified under subsection (b) and whether such illnesses may have been caused by exposure to a hazardous disposal site.

(f) Definitions- In this section:

(1) The term `existing medical surveillance systems' means medical surveillance systems and other data in the possession of the Secretary as of the date of the enactment of this Act.

(2) The term `exposure to a hazardous disposal site' includes the following:

(A) Exposure to the fumes emanating from a hazardous disposal site for--

(i) more than one year if the member of the Armed Forces was deployed to a military installation that made use of open pits to burn waste; or

(ii) any period of time when exposure to such fumes was intensive.

(B) A situation where a member of the Armed Forces with service-related health problems demonstrates significant exposure to fumes emanating from a hazardous disposal site.

(3) The term `hazardous disposal site' means a location where hazardous methods of disposing of mass amounts of waste were used during Operation Enduring Freedom or Operations Iraqi Freedom, including the use of open pits to burn waste.

(4) The term `member of the Armed Forces' includes former members of the Armed Forces.

SEC. 3. PROHIBITION ON DISPOSAL OF WASTES IN A MANNER THAT PRODUCES DANGEROUS LEVELS OF TOXINS.

(a) In General- The Secretary of Defense shall prohibit the disposal of waste during contingency operations lasting more than six months in a manner that exposes members of the Armed Forces or civilian employees of the Department of Defense to the following:

(1) Environmental toxins, including dioxin, benzene, and other carcinogens.

(2) Combinations of toxins that may lead to long-term negative health effects.

(3) Low levels of toxins that exceed military exposure guidelines for exposures of over one year.

(b) Regulations- Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall prescribe regulations to carry out this section.

(c) Report- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to Congress a report on the status of waste disposal techniques used by members of the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, including, for each military department, an assessment of the compliance with the regulations required under this section.