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Legislation would create burn pit registry

Published January 21, 2010 2:38 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Military members concerned that exposure to toxic open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan may have caused long-term health problems can face a significant obstacle if they try to prove their ailments are connected to their service.

The U.S. military has not compiled a complete history of its burn pit use; nor does it have a way to account for where many of the 2 million members were exposed to pits while serving at war between 2001 and 2009.

New legislation introduced this week by Rep. Tim Bishop would change that. The New York Democrat is asking Congress to sponsor an official registry documenting the tens of thousands of troops exposed to the pits, where the military has discarded of much of its combat trash including chemicals, plastics, vehicle parts and medical waste.

"I will continue to fight to bring an end to these reckless policies which endanger our troops and to ensure that our veterans receive the medical care they need," Bishop said.

His bill would also fund the construction of a complete history of the scores of burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan and order annual reports to Congress on burn pit-related sicknesses.

Among those who believe they have been sickened by exposure to the pits is Utah National Guard soldier Casey Malmborg, who has had trouble breathing since returning from him 2007 deployment to Iraq.

"I went on the deployment as a healthy 19-year-old," Malmborg said last month. "Now I'm stuck with asthma for the rest of my life."

At http://www.burnpits.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.burnpits.org, an informal gathering place established by Bishop's office last year, veterans have shared stories of cancer, blood disease, skin problems and leukemia -- all of which they believe to be connected to exposure to the pits.

But former Hill Air Force Base environmental health officer Darrin Curtis -- who warned of chronic health problems related to the pits during his 2006 tour of duty in Iraq -- says that it could be decades before epidemiological studies tie symptoms and diseases to a cause.

But lead cosponsor Rep. Carol Shea-Porter believes Congress can act now. "The toxins emitted from burn pits can cause serious and chronic health problems," the New Hampshire Democrat said. "Our troops shouldn't have to worry about becoming ill from toxic air produced on their own bases."

For several years, military health officials denied that exposure to the pits was causing long-term damage to U.S. troops. That changed last month when the military's senior official for health protection acknowledged to The Salt Lake Tribune that it was "likely" that exposure contributed to chronic illnesses for some service members.

The military has replaced dozens of pits with cleaner-burning incinerators, but dozens of others remain in use throughout the warfronts.

mlaplante@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">mlaplante@sltrib.com

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Read more on veterans' concerns about the burn pits http://www.sltrib.com/ci_14182242" Target="_BLANK">here.