Waste produced by military servicemembers on U.S. bases in certain locations may be difficult to properly and safely dispose of. When the U.S. military occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, the common procedure for disposing of waste was to burn it in open pits.
As the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to investigate the toxic chemicals active duty military personnel are exposed to, the widespread use of open burn pits is causing more and more concern. VA created a registry for veterans and servicemembers to report whether they were around a burn pit during their time on active duty, and more than 180,000 people have registered.
Currently, more than 12,000 claims have been filed with VA involving injuries and diseases connected to exposure to open burn pits, but only around 2,500 have moved forward to trial. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report in 2015 that stated troops were put at risk by harmful emissions from open burn pits and that the Department of Defense did not adequately plan or manage the disposal of waste at military locations.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has policies and guidelines for waste disposal in the military, and contracted workers must abide by them to ensure the safety of all involved parties. While there are listed alternatives for waste disposal at international military bases, open burn pits continue to be utilized when no feasible alternatives exist.
When an open burn pit is used, it can contain waste such as batteries, heavy metals, plastics, medical waste, tires, hazardous chemicals, and even arsenic. Open burn pits are said to be operated in a manner that prevents or reduces risk to human health and the environment, however evidence suggests that shortcuts are still being made that continue to expose U.S. military servicemembers to dangerous pollutants and chemicals.
In the study conducted by the Special Inspector General, it appears that contractors and government officers were not held accountable for failing to adhere to regulations surrounding waste management, putting additional military personnel at risk for exposure to the deadly byproducts contained in open burn pits.
Between 2001 and 2011, over 1.5 million American troops were deployed to Iraq and Afghaninstan. As the troops returned home and transitioned back into civilian life, many of them started reporting health concerns related to burn pit exposure. Thousands of veterans exhibited chronic medical issues such as cancer and respiratory illnesses that could be linked to the release of dangerous toxins in overseas military locations.
Additional ailments reported by former servicemembers exposed to open burn pits include skin, eye, and gastrointestinal issues. Unfortunately, those who came forward were met with disagreement that the waste management tactic was what caused their poor health.
While the Special Inspector General’s study notes that exposure to emissions from open-air burn pits could have lasting negative consequences to a veteran’s health, the practice has yet to be definitively banned. The study suggests that the DOD should pay greater attention to its waste management to prevent unnecessary harm to military servicemembers in addition to only using burn pits where no other solution is possible.
The actions of the DoD and the lack of serious change means that open-air burn pits will likely continue to affect the health of active duty military personnel.
If you or someone you love was exposed to the dangerous smoke or byproducts of an open-air burn pit while actively deployed, it is important that you seek legal counsel. The attorneys at VetLaw have experience with complex legal issues that involve Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense, and we can help you fight for the compensation you deserve.
Our knowledgeable lawyers can help you asses your case and pursue justice and compensation. Call us today for a free consultation today.