Exposure to noxious fumes that emanated from burn pits has triggered chronic cough, wheezing and shortness of breath and other problems among veterans who served in Southwest Asia, researchers with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded. However, their Sept. 11 report could not establish a definitive correlation between airborne hazards from toxic burn pits and other more serious ailments due to data quality issues.
Material kept burning in the pits included lithium icon batteries, plastic drums, tires, medical and human waste, paint and other chemicals, unexploded ordnance, lubricant products, and all manner of trash. Benzene rich Jet fuel was often used as an accelerant.
The research team studied 27 possible health-related outcomes – to include respiratory cancers, asthma, chronic bronchitis, sinusitis and constrictive bronchiolitis. Veterans who were subject to the study served in the Persian Gulf War of 1990 and 1991, and in the subsequent deployments that took place after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.
“The current uncertainty should not be interpreted as meaning there is no association,” said Dr. Mark Utell, an environmental medicine professor who chaired the committee that did the study. “Rather, the issue is that the available data are of insufficient quality to draw definitive conclusions.”
More than 3.7 million veterans served in the theater during the times the researchers studied. Numerous factors made it difficult for the research team to draw definitive conclusions. Previous studies did not necessarily address consistent factors, the report stated. Some assumed that all veterans were exposed to the same wide airborne hazards, including oil-well fire smoke, burn pit emissions, dust, vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions. Cigarette smoking also was not always considered.
Meanwhile, some 200,000 soldiers have signed up to a burn pit registry established by the VA to track health problems.
The committee recommended that the armed services take into account these factors, as well as age, race, gender and timing of deployments when gathering data. It also recommended that VA update its analysis of mortality among veterans who served in the theater.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering a measure that would require VA and the Defense Department to do more to track veterans who are suffering because of exposure to burn pit toxins. In the House, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, and Brian Mast, R-Fla., introduced H.R. 7072 on Sept. 15. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, introduced a similar bill, S-3885, at the same time.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-CA, also have proposed legislation that would establish a list of new diseases – including any kind of cancer – as service-connected for which veterans can receive VA benefits as a result of toxic exposure while serving in the military.
The VA has a burn pit registry to which some 200,000 soldiers have signed up.
Burn pit exposure?
Join 200,000 other veterans and sign up now: VA Burn Pit Registry
Transparency bill being considered in Congress:
H.R.7072 – SFC Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act
Proposed benefits bill:
Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020