DOD leaders look at long-term effects of burn pits
By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service
/ Published December 28, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Defense Department leaders have launched a study on the possible long-term effects of the smoke emitted from burn pits used in overseas locations such as Iraq.
Armed services medical officials are conducting studies on the health outcomes of individuals that have been deployed to identify any health conditions associated with smoke exposure.
Burn pit smoke can cause some acute health effects in some people, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Dec. 28. These can include eye irritation, upper respiratory ailments and coughing.
"To date, we don't have any information on any longer-term health risks that may be associated with burn pit smoke inhalation," Mr. Whitman said.
This is the second study of the effects inhaling burn pit smoke may have. The first study used an Environmental Protection Agency risk assessment method to determine what effects the smoke at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, had on personnel exposed to it.
"We determined at that time, that there was no long-term health effects that were expected due to inhalation of burn pit smoke to the personnel assigned there," Mr. Whitman said.
However, there has been persistent concern about the possible effects, prompting the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center study. "The department's No. 1 priority is the health of our servicemembers," Mr. Whitman said. "Whenever concerns of this nature are raised we want to make sure they are being addressed properly and when appropriate studied for any long-term effects."
The Defense officials recognize that some individuals may be more susceptible to the effects of burn pits because of genetics or pre-existing health conditions. Other factors may contribute to long-term effects including smoking, inhaling dust particles and working around heavy machinery.
The health centers expect a preliminary report out early next year.