Tomorrow’s “Dan Rather Reports” will present an in-depth report on what may become the next Gulf War Syndrome, the next Ground Zero disease, maybe even the next Agent Orange. All of those maladies were initially dismissed as figments of the imagination. We now know they were all too real, each caused by exposure to environmental hazards.
The culprit this time, “burn pits” on bases throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, where for years, the U.S. Military has burned tons of trash. What do they burn in these pits? Everything from plastic to foam to batteries, computers and paint, even human body parts — all stacked in these burn pits and set ablaze. Many times jet fuel was used as the igniter.
Retired Lt. Colonel Darrin Curtis, a Bioenvironmental Engineer, told us he was shocked when he first saw the enormous burn pit at Balad Air Base. It was Curtis’ job to protect the health of his fellow airmen – and he heard constant complaints. ”At night was probably some of the worst times…,” Curtis told Rather. ”A lot of the complaints come from Commanders and such. That, you know, ‘I came into work this morning and, you know, a troop of mine vomited last night from the smoke.'”
And now, otherwise healthy soldiers are returning from the war with rare and serious lung ailments – even cancer – which some believe is due to exposure to toxic clouds of smoke billowing from these “burn pits.”
“You would wake up in the morning time and you would taste, you could feel, you could smell [it], and you’re like, ‘ah, it’s, a nice burn pit day’,” said Captain Jennifer Blair, a platoon leader stationed at Balad Air Base– home to the largest burn pit in the Iraq theatre.
Blair was diagnosed with a serious lung ailment called Constrictive Bronchiolitis – a classic sign of toxic damage, according to Pulmonologist Robert Miller of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Miller told Rather that he is concerned that there are,”…thousands of people out there with this condition that are not being recognized.”
And, a study by a Respiratory Specialist at the Veterans’ Affairs Hospital in Northport Long Island found that soldiers who have been deployed have nearly double the rate of respiratory problems than those that stayed stateside.
These studies are just the beginning. Scientists will need to do more in-depth research in order to prove definitely that the burn pits are the cause of the illnesses.
The military finally closed the pit at Balad last fall, but soldiers and former employees of Houston-based KBR, the company operating the pit, tell “Dan Rather Reports” that the same practices are still in place at a number of burn pits in both war zones.
“Dan Rather Reports – Where There’s Smoke…” premieres TOMORROW on HDNet, Tuesday, May 4 at 8:00 p.m. ET with an encore at 11:00 p.m. ET.