As burn pits sicken troops, new legislation is introduced to study them

Matt Saintsing
May 02, 2018 - 1:12 pm

Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Carmichael Yepez


If you’ve spent any time in Iraq or Afghanistan over the past, oh, say decade and a half, you absolutely know about burn pits.

In fact, over 140,000 service members and veterans have reported some exposure to burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals, stretching back to Operation Desert Storm, but a new bipartisan bill introduced Tuesday, would study exposure in service members, in the hopes the VA could eventually the treat service connected ailments.

The Burn Pits Accountability Act, introduced by Reps. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.), would investigate service member’s exposure to open burn pits and study the impact of breathing in particles after burning everything from trash, to human waste. We already know it can cause serious and potentially life-threatening health problems, including rarer forms of cancer, lung disease, and neurological problems.

“When I was serving in Afghanistan, trash and human waste were often burned in open air pits,” Mast said. “I think it’s quickly becoming clear that these burn pits are emerging as the Agent Orange of my generation.”

The proposed legislation would require the Secretary of Defense to record whether service members have ever been stationed where open burn pits were used. It also would enroll any service member who was found to have been around burn pits in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.

Both the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs would also be required to share any information related to burn pit exposure with each other.

“Whether serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, our post-9/11 veterans were exposed to open-air burn pits, often for many hours a day,” added Gabbard. 

“Some veterans who I deployed with are now falling sick with cancer and other illnesses. But, there is no research and data about exposure to burn pits and other toxic chemicals, and how they have impacted the health and well-being of our servicemembers and their families," she said.

The bill is supported by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

“Burn pits are one of the most critical issues facing our generation of veterans,” said IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Reickhoff.

“IAVA members nationwide are deeply concerned and incredibly focused on this issue. Increasing accountability at the DoD for servicemembers’ toxic exposures is long overdue. The introduction of this historic legislation is welcomed news for our community of over 3 million veterans that have fought in our nation’s wars since 9/11.”