According to the magazine, the US military disposes of its garbage from televisions to shoes in open burn pits, from which toxic clouds can potentially emanate, which can have serious consequences for those in the area.
In the magazine article, author J. Malcolm Garcia discusses conversations he had with local shopkeepers near an Army base in Afghanistan, who tell him that they often smell a plastic-like odor coming from the base, believing it came from the open burn pit used to consume trash.
However, it has been noted many times that such trash disposal can release harmful chemicals into the air, including carcinogenic substances that can increase the risk for serious health issues from respiratory failure to nervous system damage. Specifically, devices such as computers contain mercury, which can damage the nervous system and kidneys when inhaled.
Garcia reports that the United States Central Command estimated that there were 114 open burn pits in Afghanistan as of last year, with a Bagram Airbase public information officer adding that there were 22 in Iraq in 2010.
While Garcia notes that military officials would not comment on the use of open burn pits in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Environmental Protection Agency specifically bans the use of such burn pits that release toxic chemicals, as well as the burning of grass, food and plastic.
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A previous New York Times article reported that Afghanistan and Iraq military veterans have experienced a rise in lung problems after returning home from deployment. Many people have pointed to open burn pit exposure as the major factor in this increase, with lawsuits having already been filed against contractors and other entities claiming they were responsible for the victims' burn pit exposure and subsequent health problems.