Many soldiers or their families have filed a burn pit lawsuit after military personnel have been exposed to the smoke of open burn pits, often used by the military to dispose of garbage and other refuse.
USA Today reported on May 12 that a pulmonologist affiliated with Vanderbilt University Medical Center spent time with soldiers from the 101st Airborne unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Dr. Bob Miller noted that many soldiers experiencing shortness of breath and unable to run as fast as they had prior to being deployed had been exposed to a sulfur fire while stationed in Mosul, Iraq.
But they had also been exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such trash fires are used to dispose of some 240 tons of refuse in any given day. The affected soldiers exhibited clean chest X-rays and CT scans following their burn pit exposure overseas. However, those volunteering for biopsies of lung cells allowed Dr. Miller to obtain some revealing observations.
The vast majority of biopsy participants—50 out of 54—demonstrated constrictive bronchiolitis. The latter is a rare lung disease that effectively closes the smallest airways in the lung. The biopsies also revealed the presence of dust and a brown pigment mixed in with it.
Are the military burn pits to blame for this condition?
Researchers discovered that minute dust particles, 1000 of which can fit on the head of a pin, could contain various metals. Specifically, dust particles gathered from Iraq and Kuwait were found to contain no fewer than 37 metals—some of which have been linked to neurological disorders, cancer, heart disease, depression and respiratory ailments, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Are these metals coming from military waste?
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A researcher with Veterans Affairs notes that the incidence rates of respiratory problems appear to be rising. Asthma rates were about 4 percent amongst soldiers who did not deploy, said Anthony Szema. However, veterans deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2007 revealed asthma rates of 7 percent. Today, 11 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq are experiencing respiratory problems.
The Balad burn pit in Baghdad is suspected of sickening hundreds of military personnel who rotated through the base since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.