At the height of the Iraq war, large sprawling Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) were scattered across the country. At Balad, a major FOB in the hearth of Baghdad, more than 250 tons of waste was burned daily, more than three times the amount of trash generated by a comparable sized city. This repeated itself at nearly every FOB and installation throughout the country. The effects would be profound.
At the height of the Afghanistan war, a study was conducted by the Inspector General (IG) to identify the extent of burn pit use. According to the special investigator, more than 410 tons of waste was being burned daily. Further, although more than $81.9 million had been spent on 23 clean incinerators, $20.1 was wasted because eight incinerators were never turned on or used.
The inspector general report was both open and honest in its findings. It laid blame at the foot of the contractors paid by the US government to ship, maintain, and use the incinerators for failing to do so. It blamed the government for continuing to pay those contractors. The chief company recognized for its failings was KBR, which operated in both countries.
Responding to these reports, hundreds of veterans joined a class action lawsuit against KBR claiming that KBR had a duty to safely remove the waste, and instead had directly caused the sickening of significant numbers of service members over thirteen years of war. The exact number of individuals affected is unknown, but from April to December 2014, more than 30,000 service members filled out the Veteran Affairs burn pit registry survey.
Initially the courts determined that the lawsuit was unfounded because a federal judge in Maryland declared that contractors working in war zones were afforded the same freedom from lawsuits that the US government had. This was due to the concern that allowing lawsuits would limit the ability of the US government to find contractors willing to work in future war zones. Fortunately for the more than 250 service members currently suing, an appeals court reversed this decision and the case can go on. KBR continues to claim that its practices were in line with military standards at the time and were doing nothing wrong. They further claim that there is still no link between the burning of waste and health problems.
While officially this is accurate, as the VA is still conducting its studies, service member’s health tells a different story. With individuals reporting constrictive bronchiolitis, cancers, and other terminal illnesses, it is hard to imagine that the exposure to burning trucks, paint, Styrofoam, ammunition, paint, tires, solvent, asbestos, human remains and pesticides did not play a role in these illnesses.
Much like the discussions of Agent Orange, it is likely that this issue will persist over the years. It is hard to deny that burn pits are unhealthy, and yet that is just what is happening. Service members are looking for hard answers to explain their untimely illnesses, and burn pits do present a logical answer. Hopefully the application of the law and the court cases currently in question will have positive effects both for the service members, and a future understanding about contractor obligations in a war time environment.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.