Last month the American Chemical Society (a nonprofit organization chartered by the US Congress) reported on its study that began in 2008 and is ongoing. "Our preliminary results show that the fine particulate matter concentrations frequently exceed military exposure guidelines and those individual constituents, such as lead, exceed US ambient air quality standards designed to protect human health," said Jennifer Bell, a member of the research team.
The study alarmingly echoes reports of asbestos disease and mesothelioma that spanned decades: these open pit burns have created air that contains "particulate matter"—dust or fine particles—that lodge deep inside the lungs. By US National Ambient Air Quality Standards, these particle levels have been found at almost 10 times higher than the "desirable" levels.
Bell said this fine particulate matter has been linked with a variety of health problems, including an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease. Even soldiers in excellent health are not immune. Furthermore, like the asbestos disease mesothelioma, many troops who breathed air polluted by open pit burns may not experience health issues until much later. And because the effects of open pit burn exposure are relatively new, no one really knows the long-term health effects that military personnel may suffer from breathing toxic air.
But a number of troops have already experienced adverse events and have filed open burn pit lawsuits. Fifty-year-old Jessey B, a National Guard master sergeant from Albuquerque, New Mexico, has recently requested further investigation into exposures associated with his diagnosis of mesothelioma and constrictive brochiolitis. Jessey was deployed twice to Balad Air Base in Iraq, home to the largest and most notorious of the Iraq burn pits.
In March 2010, a lawsuit was filed against KBR, Kellogg Brown & Root LLC and Halliburton on behalf of two military veterans who claim their respiratory diseases, neurological skin disorders and more were caused by hazardous emissions from burn pits. The lawsuit is calling for the defense contractors to:
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(Regarding the March 2010 lawsuit above: The defendants' motion to dismiss was denied in September 2010. In the US District Court for the District of Maryland, Honorable Roger W. Titus ruled that the lawsuits filed by American military personnel and civilians against defense contractors KBR and Halliburton may proceed and that "carefully limited discovery" may now take place.)