Today, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647), which includes important provisions authored by Congressman Tim Bishop (NY-1) to protect the thousands of troops exposed to toxic, open burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan. These provisions were based on Bishop's legislation, the Military Personnel War Zone Toxic Exposure Prevention Act, (HR 2419) introduced with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter on May 14, 2009.
"This is a significant victory for the health of our troops and veterans," said Bishop. "We should not continue to recklessly use open burn pits to dispose of hazardous waste across Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops should be free to focus on fighting the enemy without worrying how their lives may be further endangered by breathing in toxic air from their own bases."
For months, Congressman Bishop has led the fight, along with other Members and national military and veterans organizations, to prohibit the use of these dangerous burn pits and to provide medical support to the thousands of troops who have been exposed to them.
Hundreds of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming sick and even dying from what appears to be overexposure to dangerous toxins produced by these burn pits. Symptoms include chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs, and allergy-like symptoms. Several also have cited heart problems, lymphoma, and leukemia. To date, the Department of Defense has maintained that burn pits pose no long-term health risks. However, Agent Orange and Persian Gulf Syndrome have taught us that we must be vigilant in monitoring and treating our veterans long after they have returned from the battlefield.
Section 317 of the National Defense Authorization Act will enact into law for the first time the following provisions related to burn pits:
* Prohibit the use of burn pits for hazardous and medical waste except if the Secretary of Defense sees no alternative;
* Require the Department of Defense (DOD) to report to the congressional oversight committees whenever burn pits are used and justify their use, and every six months to report on their status;
* Require DOD to develop a plan for alternatives, in order to eliminate the use of burn pits; further, DOD must report to Congress how and why they use burn pits and what they burn in them;
* Require DOD to assess existing medical surveillance programs of burn pits exposure and make recommendations to improve them;
* Require DOD to do a study of the effects of burning plastics in open pits and evaluate the feasibility of prohibiting the burning of plastics.
Further information on the burn pits is available at this website to help veterans find and share information about burn pits: www.burnpits.org.
Below are statements of support from national veterans and military organizations for Bishop's burn pits amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act:
Disabled American Veterans: "Hundreds of current and former service members have reported to DAV that they were heavily exposed to fumes from numerous, extremely large burn pits around Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of these troops reported that they became ill during such exposure and that their illnesses have continued to worsen after such exposure. The DAV does NOT perceive this as a coincidence. Therefore, the DAV thanks you for having the foresight to stand up for veterans by trying to limit the unregulated and long-term use of dangerous and irresponsible open air burning of waste."
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: "More than six years into the war in Iraq and eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military continues daily disposal of hundreds of tons of war-zone waste in a crudest and hazardous manner--open-air burn pits By limiting the use of open air burn pits, this amendment helps protect members of the Armed Forces from exposure to potentially hazardous waste while serving their country, and directs the DOD to account for all of the hazardous materials that can potentially harm our military personnel."
Military Officers Association of America: "More and more service members have come forward with various symptoms and life-threatening medical conditions after being exposed to burn pits used to dispose of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan."
National Guard Association of the United States: "Our members already exposed to the hazards of combat deserve protection from unnecessary self generated environmental hazards. They and their families who will share in the harmful effects of these hazardous environmental exposures deserve nothing less than the protection this amendment would provide."
Veterans of Foreign Wars: " we believe, as you do, that incinerating toxic waste materials at military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely responsible for a growing number of illnesses affecting soldiers coming home to the US. Moreover, despite growing concerns over the widespread open-air burning of trash, only about half of 41 incinerators the military purchased four years ago to combat the problem are in operation. Thank you for taking the lead on this initiative and for your continued support of our armed forces and military veterans."