WASHINGTON — One of the most surprising results to come out of a survey released this week by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America(IAVA) was in response to a question buried in the “general health” section.
It was a question about exposure to “burn pits,” open-air fields where theUS military burned water bottles and plastic-foam cups, as well as human and medical waste (which sometimes included hypodermic needles and, some troops report, amputated limbs).
The waste was generally lit on fire with jet fuel, and the flames often reached two or three stories high. In IAVA’s survey of some 2,000 USservice members who had combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, three-quarters reported being exposed to burn pits while deployed.
Of those exposed to burn pits, more than half – 54 percent – say that they “feel they have symptoms associated with that exposure.”
The effect of burn pits on the health of US troops is “arguably the iceberg of Iraq and Afghanistan public health,” argues Phil Carter, director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.