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Leaked Memo: Afghan ‘Burn Pit’ Could Wreck Troops’ Hearts, Lungs

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A bulldozer dumps a load of trash into a burn pit just 300 yards from the runway at Bagram Airfield, January 2012. An Army memo from 2011 found the burn pit is associated with "long-term" health effects on soldiers at Bagram. Photo: U.S. Army

By Spencer Ackerman  @ Wired.com

A bulldozer dumps a load of trash into a burn pit just 300 yards from the runway at Bagram Airfield, January 2012. An Army memo from 2011 found the burn pit is associated with “long-term” health effects on soldiers at Bagram.

For years, U.S. government agencies have told the public, veterans and Congress that they couldn’t draw any connections between the so-called “burn pits” disposing of trash at the military’s biggest bases and veterans’ respiratory or cardiopulmonary problems. But a 2011 Army memo obtained by Danger Room flat-out stated that the burn pit at one of Afghanistan’s largest bases poses “long-term adverse health conditions” to troops breathing the air there.

The unclassified memo (.jpg), dated April 15, 2011, stated that high concentrations of dust and burned waste present at Bagram Airfield for most of the war are likely to impact veterans’ health for the rest of their lives. “The long term health risk” from breathing in Bagram’s particulate-rich air include “reduced lung function or exacerbated chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, atherosclerosis, or other cardiopulmonary diseases.” Service members may not necessarily “acquire adverse long term pulmonary or heart conditions,” but “the risk for such is increased.”

The cause of the health hazards are given the anodyne names Particulate Matter 10 and Particulate Matter 2.5, a reference to the size in micrometers of the particles’ diameter. Service personnel deployed to Bagram know them by more colloquial names: dust, trash and even feces — all of which are incinerated in “a burn pit” on the base, the memo says, as has been standard practice in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade.

Accordingly, the health risks were not limited to troops serving at Bagram in 2011, the memo states. The health hazards are an assessment of “air samples taken over approximately the last eight years” at the base.

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3 Comments

  1. Comment by NEW YORK:

    I like many co workers hacked like we had TB. the medic would give you something for it to break up the mucus and off you go if you complain to much they will send you for a medical and next stop would be home and you only get 90 day’s to get back once you clear medical .If you go past 90 day’s they get rid of your ass .How does one avoid the Bagram Hack it’s their all day and night and we all march on for the sake of our family’s at home. at least we can complain or quit but the poor GI is stuck.

  2. Comment by Kenneth Stanfield:

    It’s sad to hear that our Veteran’s will be suffering from these likely diseases for the rest of their lives. Didn’t we learn anything from the Agent Orange in Vietnam and Ground Zero of 9/11? Why does it take so long to make changes to these health risks?

  3. Comment by Junior AKA Safety:

    I wanted to say I was the Associate HSE Coord at Balad JMMT in 2008 and I watched the airforce falsify their own investigation and cheat their own results. They placed their testers behind a wind brake so that way it would show false numbers. Wonder why there are pics of guys in yellow suits at ballad JMMT?

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