Leaked Memo: Afghan ‘Burn Pit’ Could Wreck Troops’ Hearts, Lungs
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has collected “hundreds” of anecdotes from vets complaining of health problems connected to serving near burn pits. “It’s good to see someone in the military is acknowledging there are going to be long-term problems with burn pits, but it’s disturbing that this memo is more than a year old and it doesn’t seem like the military has done anything about it,” says Tom Tarantino, IAVA’s deputy policy director, who deployed to Iraq in 2005 as an Army captain. “I lived next to a burn pit for six months at Abu Ghraib. You can’t tell me that was OK. That was pretty nasty. While I was there everyone was hacking up weird shit.”
Any visitor to the sprawling Bagram airfield knows the burn pit — if not by sight, then by smell. It’s an acrid, smoldering barbecue of trash, from busted furniture to human waste, usually manned by Afghan employees who cover their noses and mouths with medical breathing masks. Plumes of aerosolized refuse emerge from what troops refer to as “The Shit Pit,” mingle with Parwan Province’s already dust-heavy air, and sweep over the base. In February, that was where soldiers at the nearby Parwan detention facility accidentally incinerated the Koran.
At the time of the memo’s issuance, it noted that the affected population on the base contemporaneously was “40,000 Service Members and contractors.” Hundreds of thousands have cycled through the giant base since the U.S. seized it in 2001. Bagram is a major transit and logistics hub for the Afghanistan war, and one of the first bases the U.S. took and continuously operated during the war. Millions more have served in Iraq and Afghanistan near similar burn pits.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies conducted on the effects of breathing in Particulate Matter 10 and 2.5 have determined “a significant association between exposure to fine particles and premature mortality.” The Army memo reports that Bagram’s air had twice the amount of Particulate Matter 10 than the federal National Ambient Air Quality Standard, and more than three times the amount of Particulate Matter 2.5 as the standard.