DoD Isn’t Doing Enough To Understand Burn Pit Exposure Effects, Report Says


The Pentagon needs to study the long-term health effects of exposure to the chemicals inhaled from burn pits at its overseas military bases, the Government Accountability Office says in a report.

While the report, released in September, credited the Department of Defense with improving practices to mitigate the risks of exposure to the burn pits, the department still needs to ensure that “research specifically examines the relationship between direct burn pit exposure and long-term health issues.”

The GAO found there hasn’t been enough progress on this issue over the past five years, when it first said more study was needed.

“The current lack of data on emissions specific to burn pits and related individual exposures limits efforts to characterize potential long-term health impacts on service members and other base personnel,” the report warned.

Open-air burning has always been a mainstay of waste disposal during times of war. But the technology of modern warfare means that such new items as plastic bottles and electronics are being burned, presenting new health risks.

Burn pits were constructed at more than 230 U.S. military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan before their use was restricted in 2009. Although the military gave assurances that the air quality was within safe levels, troops returning home began complaining of problems as early as 2004.

Related: When It Comes to Burn Pits, Veterans Might Be On Their Own »

Massive open-air burn pits at the bases billowed the toxic smoke and ash of everything from Styrofoam, metals and plastics to electrical equipment and even human body parts.

The flames were stoked with jet fuel.

While it took nearly three decades for the U.S. government to eventually link Agent Orange, the defoliant used in Vietnam, to cancer, President Obama has pledged quick action to make determinations about the effect of the burn pits on perhaps as many as 60,000 U.S. troops.

A 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine outlined the data needed for assessing exposures and potential related health risks. In response, the Department of Veterans Affairs established a registry to collect information. However, the Department of Defense has not undertaken data-gathering and research efforts to specifically examine this relationship to fully understand any associated health risks, the GAO report said.

To date, the VA’s official position is that research has not established evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits. The magnitude of the issue, however, may not be clear for decades as delayed war ­casualties slowly emerge. In Minnesota alone, it is estimated that more than 14,000 Minnesota Army and Air Guard troops qualify to be part of a national registry for potential burn pit exposure, based on where they were stationed during deployments.

The Star Tribune recently documented the plight of Minnesota Air National Guard veteran Amie Muller, who is battling pancreatic cancer and several other maladies after returning from deployments to Balad Air Base in Iraq, site of one of the most notorious military base burn pits.

Despite the mounting public outcry from vets, their families and members of Congress, the VA continues to say research does not show evidence of long-term health problems, and that most irritation is likely temporary. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has proposed a national center to study the long-term effects of burn pits.

While generally agreeing with the GAO report, the Pentagon said the report should have acknowledged research that the Department of Defense already has completed with other organizations.


© 2016 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt Alfred V. Lopez.
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Oscar L Olive IV)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Several members of the Marine Corps' famous Silent Drill Platoon were kicked out of the service or punished by their command after someone reported witnessing them using a training rifle to strike someone.

Three Marines have been discharged in the last 60 days and two others lost a rank after the Naval Criminal Investigative Service began looking into hazing allegations inside the revered unit that performs at public events around the world.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Keion Jackson).

The U.S. military will build 'facilities' to house at least 7,500 adult migrants, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to construct the facilities, said Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Chris Mitchell.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur.)

Defense officials will brief President Donald Trump's national security team on a plan that involves sending 5,000 more troops to the Middle East to deter Iran, Task & Purpose has learned.

So far, no decisions have been made about whether to send the reinforcements to the region, unnamed U.S. officials told CNN's Barbara Starr.

"The military capabilities being discussed include sending additional ballistic missile defense systems, Tomahawk cruise missiles on submarines, and surface ships with land attack capabilities for striking at a long range," CNN reports. "Specific weapons systems and units have not been identified."

Read More Show Less

The thousands of sailors, Coasties and Marines who descend on New York City every year for Fleet Week are an awesome sight to behold on their own, but this year's confab of U.S. service members includes a uniquely powerful homecoming as well.

Read More Show Less

When an Air Force major called J.J. completed a solo flight in the U-2 in late August 2016 — 60 years after the high-flying aircraft was introduced — he became the 1,000th pilot to do so.

J.J., whose name was withheld by the U.S. Air Force for security reasons, earned his solo patch a few days after pilots No. 998 and No. 999. Those three pilots are in distinguished company, two fellow pilots said this month.

"We have a pretty small, elite team of folks. We're between about 60 and 70 active-duty pilots at any given time," Maj. Matt "Top" Nauman said during an Air Force event at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.

"We're about 1,050 [pilots] right now. So to put that in context, there are more people with Super Bowl rings than there are people with U-2 patches," Nauman added. "It's a pretty small group of people that we've hired over the last 60 to 65 years."

Read More Show Less