Thousands of troops exposed to dangerous toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan
Washington, DC—Yesterday, Rep. Tim Bishop (NY-1) and lead cosponsor Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1) introduced the Military Personnel Toxic Exposure Registry Act. This bill builds on successful legislative efforts over the last year to prohibit the disposal of toxic waste in open air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and to ensure that the thousands of troops exposed to these dangerous burn pits receive proper medical care.
“The passage of the first official prohibition on burn pits in last year’s defense bill was a significant victory for the health of our troops and veterans,” said Bishop. “However, it is critical to have an official registry documenting the tens of thousands of troops exposed to these toxic burn pits in order to remove obstacles to accessing the VA benefits which many of them will need as a result of exposure. In addition, we are pushing for a ban on the open-air burning of large quantities of plastics, which has been widely documented to occur despite the clear health dangers. I will continue to fight to bring an end to these reckless policies which endanger our troops and to ensure that our veterans receive the medical care they need.”
“The toxins emitted from burn pits can cause serious and chronic health problems, and our troops shouldn’t have to worry about becoming ill from toxic air produced on their own bases,” said Shea-Porter. “We must limit their exposure as much as possible, and this legislation will help continue the process of protecting them from these dangerous burn pits.”
The new legislation calls for a complete history of all burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan; a registry of all troops exposed to those burn pits; physical examinations for those exposed to burn pits; annual reports to Congress on burn pits related sicknesses; and a ban on the burning of plastics in large burn pits. Copies of the new bill are available upon request.
“This new legislation is exactly what we need,” said John Wilson, Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans. “It is critically important that our government takes the next logical step to protect and care for our veterans who are suffering and who will potentially suffer from exposure to toxic fumes and debris in Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise, we must also acknowledge and assist survivors of those service members who died from this exposure. We at the Disabled American Veterans strongly urge the military to determine and document what has been put into these pits and who has been exposed to them. The Military Personnel Toxic Exposure Registry Act has the DAV’s support. We applaud Rep. Tim Bishop of New York and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire for co-sponsoring this hugely important legislation.”
Hundreds of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming sick and even dying from what appears to be overexposure to dangerous toxins produced by these burn pits. Symptoms include chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs, and allergy-like symptoms. Several also have cited heart problems, lymphoma, and leukemia. While the Department of Defense has officially maintained that burn pits pose no long-term health risks, senior DOD and VA personnel have recently spoken out about the health hazards of burn pits. In addition, 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.
The National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647), which has been signed into law, included important provisions to protect the thousands of troops exposed to open, toxic burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have sickened hundreds of troops. These provisions were based on the Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act, (HR 2419) introduced May 14, 2009 by Bishop and Shea-Porter.
Section 317 of the National Defense Authorization Act enacted into law for the first time the following provisions related to burn pits:
- · Prohibit the use of burn pits for hazardous and medical waste except if the Secretary of Defense sees no alternative;
- · Require the Department of Defense (DOD) to report to the congressional oversight committees whenever burn pits are used and justify their use, and every six months to report on their status;
- · Require DOD to develop a plan for alternatives, in order to eliminate the use of burn pits; further, DOD must report to Congress how and why they use burn pits and what they burn in them;
- · Require DOD to assess existing medical surveillance programs of burn pits exposure and make recommendations to improve them;
- · Require DOD to do a study of the effects of burning plastics in open pits and evaluate the feasibility of prohibiting the burning of plastics.
Further documentation, news reports and troops’ stories about the burn pits are available at this website to help veterans find and share information about burn pits: www.burnpits.org.