Servicemembers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have faced hazardous and dangerous work conditions outside the scope of combat including health risks posed from toxic burn pits and hexavalent chromium exposure. In order to bring attention to another serious health risk posed to U.S. Servicemembers, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urging him to minimize servicemember exposure to the high levels of air pollution in the Afghan capital of Kabul and to add notation of exposure to this air pollution in servicemember records so that any problems can be treated through the military.
Air quality in Kabul has been rated among the worst of worldwide rankings for hazardous airborne contaminants and Afghan sources estimate more than 3,000 deaths per year are directly related to the poor air quality. "Levels of individual hazardous compounds such as lead, nitrogen dioxide and ozone are all significantly above EPA primary and secondary standards and levels of particulate matter are more than 1000 percent higher than World Health Organization recommended levels," Wyden wrote in the letter.
Kabul's lack of infrastructure, sanitation problems and the recent population boom have caused dramatic increases in airborne contaminants and the city's location in a valley at high altitude makes it difficult for pollutants to disperse. Kabul residents are regularly urged by their own government to wear masks due to dangerously high airborne contaminants.
"While I know the mission of our personnel often requires repeated exposure to dangerous environments, I fear that the effects of airborne toxins in Kabul may not be fully realized until much later," Wyden continued in the letter. "I urge the Department of Defense to conduct studies so we know exactly what our troops and other Americans in Kabul are breathing and I ask that we make every effort to minimize or mitigate their exposure."
Wyden has asked the DoD to keep records of the U.S. personnel who have served in Kabul citing their potential exposure to these high levels of contaminants. The health effects of this exposure could take time to manifest and proper records of exposure will make it easier for them to receive treatment through the military.