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More protection for troops working near burn pits

The military is looking to expand the availability of breathing masks after two Democratic senators asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month to provide them to troops who work near burn pits.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer, of New York., and Bill Nelson, of Florida, made the request after Army Sgt. William McKenna, 41, died from a rare case of lymphoma, which the lawmakers believe was linked to toxic fumes from exposed burn pits in Iraq.

All open air burn pits in Iraq were closed by the end of 2010, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a letter responding to the two senators.

“We are in the process of gathering additional information and within the next 60 days will identify ways to promote greater access and use of protective equipment to further mitigate burn pit concerns,” Mullen wrote. “Local commanders are also ensuring burn pits are operated in a safe, secure area and inspected regularly.”

Veterans have claimed they were sickened by the fumes created when garbage was burned in exposed burn pits. While Defense Department researchers insist the smoke from the burn pits did not cause the illnesses, the Department of Veterans Affairs is looking into a possible link.

“All our front line troops can breathe a little easier today,” Schumer said in a news release. “It was shocking to learn that our brave troops were asked to monitor these toxic ‘burn-pits’ without adequate protection, and it is only right that the brass has promptly responded to our pleading that these troops be afforded every protection possible, in terms of both equipment and procedure.”

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