The federal VA has provided the following information on its Burn Pit webpage, including linked from the Gulf War webpage (www.va.gov/GulfWar).
Information about potential exposure to toxins from burn pits, possible health-related problems and VA benefits
Open air burn pits have been used extensively in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste.
Many returning Veterans have expressed health concerns related to their exposure to smoke from burning trash and human waste.
Exposure to Toxins from Burn Pits
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense
The smoke from burning waste may release a variety of toxins into the air, which may blow into living and working areas.
The make-up of the smoke from burn pits:
- Depends on what is being burned
- May not be consistent from burn pit to burn pit
- May not be the same over any period of time at any one burn pit
Types of Waste Burned
Waste products include, but are not limited to:
- Chemicals (e.g., paints, solvents)
- Incomplete combustion by-products
- Medical and human waste
- Metal/aluminum cans
- Munitions and other unexploded ordnance
- Petroleum and lubricant products
- Plastics and styrofoam
- Wood waste
Possible Health Problems from Exposure to Toxins
Exposure to specific individual toxins may affect the skin, respiratory system, eyes, liver, kidneys, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract.
Institute of Medicine Study on Health Effects
In November 2009, at the request of VA, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) began an 18-month study to determine the long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report for the study should be completed and available by summer 2011.
Veterans who were exposed to toxins released by burn pits during military service may be eligible for:
- Health care benefits
- Disability compensation benefits for disabilities that VA determines are associated with exposure to burn pits during military service
- Other benefits, including home loans, vocational rehabilitation, and education
More Information on Burn Pits
- Burning Trash and Human Waste Exposures Fact Sheet – VA War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (461 KB, PDF)
- Solid Waste Burning (Trash and Feces Fires) Fact Sheet* - US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine (31 KB, PDF)
- Burning Trash and Human Waste Exposures Fact Sheet* – Deployment Health and Family Readiness Library (118 KB, PDF)
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