The Balad Burn Pit: All-purpose toxic materials disposal in Iraq [iraq, vet health]

Update Feb 20, 2010: The anger is rising: read this LAtimes piece.

Something made me mad today. So I’m posting about it.

After reading an article on Wikileaks regarding the Balad Burn Pit, where toxic chemicals such as

“…acetaldehyde, Acrolien, Arsenic, Benzene, Carbon Monoxide, Ethylbenzene, Formaldehyde, Hydrogen Cyanide, Hydrogen Fluoride, Phosgene, Sulfur Dioxide, Sulfuric Acid, Toluene, Trichloroethane and Xylene…”

are burnt, I became very angry. I then searched for images of the pit itself and found an image of a servicewoman disposing of used fatigues, rubber boots (which produces Hydrogen Cyanide) and more. The images were posted on and


(I understand that many items burnt do not create toxic fumes. Bear with me)

The caption reads:

3/11/2008 – Senior Airman Frances Gavalis tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit March 10 at Balad Air Base, Iraq. Military uniform items turned in must be burned to ensure they cannot be used by opposing forces. Airman Gavalis, a 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron equipment manager, is deployed from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Julianne Showalter) [link]

In MILspeak, the “long term risks” of the previously cited nasty chemicals “were estimated to be low.” In reality, those who suffer ill effects after exposure to Balad and other pits like it have nowhere to turn legally or medically. Sufferers have invented words like “Iraqi Crud” and “Black goop” to describe what comes out of their lungs. Six years into the Iraq war without a proper incinerator for hazardous materials is six years too long.

Kelley Kennedy, a reporter for Army Times writes “Though military officials say there are no known long-term effects from exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 100 service members have come forward to Military Times and Disabled American Veterans with strikingly similar symptoms: chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs and allergy-like symptoms. Several also have cited heart problems, lymphoma and leukemia.” [link]

Of course, civil suits have been filed, but with so many plaintiffs and interests involved, we can look forward to a new ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ suit that lasts decades. As should have been made clear in your education, chemical weapons have been linked to US mil-related afflictions. (See the Riegle Report). War is naturally a debris / body / waste generating enterprise, so it’s no surprise that suits related to burn pits bring up related issues:

KBR [the Private firm charged with managing some burn pits] dumped medical waste, including needles, bandages, and body parts in the open pit. On one occasion,” the suit states, the plaintiff “witnessed a wild dog running around base with a human arm in its mouth.

Say I’m concerned about my friend stationed near Balad… I search for some authority on the matter: The official report by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) on air quality around Balad seems like just the thing. Too bad: It’s not available online but you can buy it for $25 dollars.

At least we can read the Abstract, which informs us that burning toxic waste is A-OK for us and all of Iraq. “Acceptable Risk”:

Abstract: This report documents the results of ambient air sampling of multiple classes of pollutants expected to be emitted by municipal waste open burn pit operations conducted at Balad Air Base, Iraq. The results were used to develop a screening health risk assessment (HRA) of military personnel located at the site and likely exposed to these pollutants. Findings indicate that measured exposure levels from burn pit operations are not routinely above deployment military exposure guidelines (MEGs) for exposures up to 1 year, levels which are not likely to cause short-term, onset health effects. A human HRA was performed under guidance outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). These results indicate an “acceptable” health risk for both cancer and non-cancer long-term health effects. Recommendations are provided to reduce the generation of burn pit emissions, thereby reducing exposure to personnel. via


[ img via ]


10 thoughts on “The Balad Burn Pit: All-purpose toxic materials disposal in Iraq [iraq, vet health]

  1. I lived with the smoke from the burn pits for over a year at balad air base. at times it would look like it was foggy in our housing are because the smoke would be so thick. Before I left Iraq I had to be medvac out to a hospital in Kuwait for stomach problems which I still have and after all the test no one can tell me why. the military doctors think it may have something to do with the are I was living in, because several other people came down whit the same thing. I also have some kidney damage.


  2. National Jewish Health, an academic medical center in Denver, is making a video to raise funds for care and research into vets’ post-deployment lung disease. I would really like to use the picture of the guy standing at the side of the burn pit throwing in a piece of paper. Do you know how I might get permission and a high-resolution image? –William


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