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Open Pit Burning Linked to Intestinal Problems and More…

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San Antonio, TXJessie was stationed in Iraq from 2004–2005, nine months of which he spent in Balad, home of the most notorious Open Pit Burning site. "We saw and tasted the smoke day and night, the pit plumes were huge in Balad," he says. Jessie believes his intestinal problems, chronic cough and sleep apnea are directly related to exposure to the open pit burns. And he is just one of thousands of troops with serious medical issues.

"I am a nurse and I talked to the doctors at the hospital where I worked in Iraq about this toxic smoke, but they told us there was nothing to be alarmed about and that we shouldn't be concerned," Jessie says. "While we were there we just got used to it because there was nothing else we could do about it. We complained every day—on deaf ears. But when I got home, I definitely had some concerns…

"We could see the smoke plumes from the Balad open pit a mile away. We were downwind and daily covered in the smoke. Some days the smoke was a light gray color, but most of the time a dark gray, and other times black, depending on what they were burning. And the smell was always there. Every time I blew my nose it was full of soot, and I was always coughing up soot. And to this day, I'm still coughing it up."

Jessie, 37 years old, was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in 2007. His sleep apnea is so severe that he must sleep with a CPAP machine every night. "This machine pushes air into my lungs when I sleep because I stop breathing," Jessie explains. "It is a cumbersome mask that's hooked to a hose and connected to the machine. It comes with its own small suitcase. I haven't been on a plane with it yet but I'm pretty sure the alarm bells would sound."

As early as 2006, the Department of Defense (DOD) knew that the burn pit was an "acute health hazard," according to Wikileaks. "The Balad Burn pit is a Big Bad Burn Pit which burns most anything that comes its way including medical waste, styrofoam, and plastic. Soldiers, contractors, foreign workers, and Iraqis suffer what troops call 'Iraqi crud,' whose symptoms include a hacking cough and black phlegm that goes by the name 'black goop.'"

"Jason, one of my co-workers, was recently diagnosed with Crohn's disease," says Jessie. "I did some research online and a lot of people who were exposed to the burn pits are having intestinal issues, including IBS like me. And I know our guys are still there and it's still not regulated. We threw body parts from the hospital into the open pits…"

At Balad, military waste, including body parts, medical waste, gas cans, mattresses, rocket pods, plastics and other carcinogenic materials was hauled by KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary. By 2009, one attorney alone had filed hundreds of lawsuits in 17 states against KBR, alleging negligence and harm.

According to an Army-Air Force risk assessment, "Fumes containing carcinogenic dioxins, heavy metals, and particulates waft freely across bases." Finally, the DOD has ordered a review of the burn pits and Congress has passed legislation limiting their use. But legislation has come too late for many of our troops.


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