WASHINGTON, DC – April 25, 2022 – On April 25, 2022, The Veterans Administration (VA) has identified that service personnel can develop rare cancers of the respiratory tract from their exposure to airborne hazards like fine particulate matter and toxic gases from burn pits and other military-related environments. These are in addition to 3 other service-connected conditions related to particulate matter exposure: asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis. Veterans who are concerned about any kind of hazardous exposure during their military service are encouraged to speak with their health care provider and to apply for VA health care. Eligible veterans are encouraged to participate in the Airborne Hazards & Open Burn Pit Registry. This can enable the VA to better understand the long-term effects of exposure to burn pits. Veterans who may have a service-connected disability from their exposure to burn pits or to other military exposures to fine particulate matter may file a claim for compensation and benefits.
Burn pits are open trash sites that are used to dispose of military waste. They were a common practice in Southwest Asia operations since 1990 including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many types of waste products were commonly disposed of in the open burn pits including: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste; munitions and unexploded ordnance; petroleum, cans, plastics, tires, wood and food waste. According to Pentagon estimates, large military bases produced over 60 thousand pounds of waste a day. In 2009, Congress passed laws to reduce the number of burn pits. The Department of Defense is planning to stop this practice.
An airborne hazard refers to a potentially toxic gas, substance or contaminant that is present in the air that people breathe. Other airborne hazards that military service members may have been exposed to include: sand, dust and particulate matter; general air pollution that is common in some countries; fuel, aircraft exhaust, and fumes from motors; and smoke from burning oil wells.
The inhalation of toxic fumes from the combustion of waste in open burn pits are felt to cause short-term and long-term health conditions. Short-term problems are frequently temporary and may include irritation of eyes or throat, burning, coughing, breathing difficulties, skin itching or rashes. People may be at a greater risk to develop long-term health problems depending upon the type of waste burned, duration, frequency and proximity to exposure. Thousands of veterans suffer from respiratory problems, neurologic problems and many other types of cancers that they attribute to their exposure to burn pits.
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