Defense contractors hired to oversee military waste management are facing a number of burn pit lawsuits. The US military allege that open burn pits, particularly the Balad burn pit, the most notorious of the Iraq burn pits, have resulted in a number of serious side effects due to burn pit exposure.
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Open Pit Burning and US Military
The US Military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering chronic, long-term health issues as a result of exposure to toxic fumes from open burn pits. Defense contractors have used burn pits at the majority of US military bases in the Middle East as a method of military waste disposal. All kinds of toxic waste have been incinerated in these open burn pits, including human waste, plastics, hazardous medical waste, lithium batteries, tires, hydraulic fluids and vehicles—often using jet fuel as an accelerant.
Since the beginning of the Iraqi war in 2003, countless service members have developed serious health issues. According to the "Afghanistan and Iraq Report", which was released by the US Government Accountability Office, four burn pits on US bases in Iraq are not meeting standards set in 2009 for burn pit operations.
The report, titled "DOD Should Improve Adherence to Its Guidance on Open Pit Burning and Solid Waste Management", goes on to say that some veterans returning from both conflicts have reported pulmonary and respiratory ailments, among other health concerns, that they attribute to burn pit emissions.
Burn Pit Lawsuits
Current and former members of the military have filed lawsuits in federal court in at least 43 states. The burn pit lawsuits, filed against Department of Defense contractors, claim mismanagement of the burn pit operations at several installations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which resulted in exposure to harmful and toxic smoke and led to adverse health events.
Burn pit lawsuits have been filed against defense contractors KBR and its former parent company Halliburton, claiming the companies endangered the health of US troops and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan by unsafely burning massive amounts of garbage on US bases.
One lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for District of Maryland (David Jobes v. KBR, April 2010) alleges that prolonged exposure to the pits’ smoke, ash, and fumes caused injuries such as chronic illnesses, risk of illnesses and wrongful death. The suit claims that the defendants—KBR Inc., Kellogg, Brown &d Root Services, Kellogg Brown & Root LLP and Halliburton Company-- had a duty to warn US service members and civilians working and living around burn pit fumes about health and safety issues but failed to properly do so.
The suit also claims that Halliburton and KBR received approximately five billion dollars per year in exchange for promising to provide contractually defined services. KBR apparently built the burn pit upwind from soldiers’ living quarters, in violation of the LOGCAP statement of work and Army regulations, which stated that burn pits had to be built downwind of living quarters. Yet the contractors allegedly ignored this guidance.
Open Pit Burning Timeline
2001 onwards: US Military relies on defense contractors in Afghanistan to dispose of its waste by using open burn pits.
2003 onwards: US Military in Iraq are exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits.
2004: KBR uses burn pits in US bases and camps across Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of toxic wastes.
Early 2007: CHPPM and the Air Force Institute for Operational Health conduct a joint assessment of the burn pit at Balad, the largest US base in Iraq and home to about 25,000 U.S. military personnel and several thousand contractors.
December 2007: A draft executive summary (from the above) goes out to military commanders in Iraq, who post it for troops to see. It shows dioxin levels at 51 times acceptable levels, particulate exposure at 50 times acceptable levels, volatile compounds at two times acceptable levels, and cancer risk from exposure to dioxins at two times acceptable levels for people at Balad for a year and at eight times acceptable levels for people at the base for more than a year.
2008: The Military Times reports that the burn pit at Balad may have exposed tens of thousands of troops to cancer-causing dioxins, poisons such as arsenic and carbon monoxide, and hazardous medical waste
April 2009: Lawsuits are filed in state courts on behalf of current and former military personnel, private contractors and families of men who allegedly died because of exposure to the fumes at the Balad Air Force Base burn pit. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are also seeking to file a class action lawsuit.
June 2009: Jill Wilkins of Eustis, the wife of a local soldier who died from a brain tumor after being exposed to smoke from garbage-burning pits in Iraq, joins more than a dozen Florida soldiers in a class action lawsuit against KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton. Burn pit lawsuits have been filed in 16 states, with about 200 plaintiffs.
A lawsuit in Missouri against KBR and Halliburton accuses the companies of poisoning US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by burning toxic waste.
A proposed class action led by Albert Paul Bittel claims the defendants burned trucks, tires, batteries, metals, biohazard material including animal and human corpses and other toxins. The refuse was burned in open pits using diesel fuel.
Similar allegations are made in state courts in Maryland, Alabama, Georgia, California, Texas, Illinois, Wyoming, North Carolina and Minnesota.
January to March 2010: GAO visits four burn pits in Iraq (one operated by military personnel and three operated by contractor personnel) and determines that none are managed in accordance with CENTCOM's 2009 regulation. It discovers that all four pits burn plastic--a prohibited item that can produce carcinogens when burned.
August 2010: To date, more than 500 war veterans have reported illnesses they blame on exposure to open-pit burning of toxic waste by the military and defense contractors Halliburton and its former subsidiary, KBR.
Still, 251burn pits are in use in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq.
September 2010: In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) calls for the declassification of an Army contract with KBR that provides the company financial immunity in cases of its own negligence, and announces legislation to increase Congressional oversight of the war contracting process.
Blumenauer releases a report detailing KBR's history of alleged misconduct in Iraq, including burning toxic chemicals in open pits on US bases.
October 2010: The US Government Accountability Office releases the "Afghanistan and Iraq Report" , claiming that four burn pits on US bases in Iraq are not meeting standards set in 2009 for burn pit operations.
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Last updated on Nov-1-12
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